The countdown for the presidential election is on and it could mark a before and after in Argentine democratic history.
There is a real possibility that a relative political newcomer, libertarian candidate Javier Milei, could win the race for the Casa Rosada despite the lack of a traditional party structure or experience in office. Ruling and opposition candidates, Sergio Massa and Patricia Bullrich, are his main rivals in the race, with left-winger Myriam Bregman and third way hopeful Juan Schiaretti making up the rest of the field.
With campaigning now in the final week and closing rallies ahead, the political landscape is nevertheless being dominated by economic instability and, true to form, scandals: Martín Insaurralde’s luxury trip with Sofía Clerici, the investigation into ATMs, debit cards and 'Chocolate” Rigau, the president’s criminal complaint against Milei for rocking the currency, audio messages damaging Carlos Melconian, etc.
Owing to the triumph of La Libertad Avanza in the primaries last August, and Milei’s feeling he could win the election outright in the first round, Massa – Argentina's Economy minister and presidential candidate for Unión por la Patria – and his Juntos por el Cambio rival Patricia Bullrich trail in the narrative stakes. Both are vying to force Milei into a run-off on November 19.
Massa and Bullrich will spend this week seeking to convince moderate voters who still don't know who they will back when they go to the polls next Sunday. They are both sticking to their scripts, calling for reasoned decisions. On either side of the divide, they know that Milei is, at the very least, is a leap of faith for voters.
Despite ceaseless criticism from their rivals, within La Libertad Avanza they are still optimistic. “Our expectation is to try to get close to 40 points," one party source said defiantly. “If we can win in the first round, great; otherwise, to be as close as possible." In the event of a run-off, Milei's team believes their most likely rival is Massa. “Juntos por el Cambio would be third,” said the source.
Libertarian party leaders are looking to improve supervision and recruit scrutineers to protect their vote. “Many volunteers are signing up to join our ranks,” the party source said. Union activists associated with veteran labour leader Luis Barrionuevo are expected to “keep an eye” on Milei’s ballots, after the libertarian’s recent approach to the food union leader.
Milei's alliance with Barrionuevo opened up a flank on the discursive wall around the libertarian, which his political contenders used to criticise the raucous economist. “To many Milei voters, many kids especially, the deal with Barrionuevo swayed them away from him, because he made an agreement with the most rancid caste about the handling of social plans in exchange for supervision,” a Bullrich-supporting source remarked. “He dealt with the Devil, he got the worst [of the] caste into his space. With Barrionuevo, he faded away, I think Milei’s losing [points] there.”
The libertarian leader is set to close his campaign on Wednesday night at the Movistar Arena, as he did in the run-up to the PASO primaries. Milei is hopeful and party leaders hope the 15,000-capacity stadium will be full for the event at which the candidate will be the main speaker.
The event was announced via Milei's social network accounts, where they also revealed the event would be attended by liberal Alberto Benegas Lynch, one of the veteran econoimst's main sources of inspiration. Within La Libertad Avanza they remain confident.They assure that the election will produce “the death certificate of Kirchnerism."
Over the last few days, Milei became even more relevant after President Alberto Fernández accused him of generating the foreign currency run which saw the peso rise to 1,000 per greenback on parallel illegal markets. The Peronist leader has filed a criminal complaint against Milei for it. Juntos por el Cambio also pointed the finger, echoing the criticism. The head of state's strategy did not please Massa, according to reports, who feels it helps the libertarian's campaign and narrative.
In his latest activities, Milei led a caravan in Salta Province, a district he won outright in the PASO primaries, despite having not visited there previously. During the tour, the presidential candidate remarked: “This impoverishing model inexorably leads to hyperinflation, which has nothing to do with us. I’ve only been in politics for nearly two years. Are they going to blame the disaster on me? Why aren’t they more serious? Why don’t they take care of their problems? We’re gonna beat them nationwide and with [LLA candidate Carolina] Píparo at the last Kirchnerite lair: Buenos Aires Province,” he said.
Opposition leader Bullrich is preparing a tour outside Buenos Aires during the final sprint of her campaign, which will be crowned with a large final rally in Lomas de Zamora, the stronghold of former mayor Martín Insaurralde, the Buenos Aires Province Cabinet chief who resigned his post earlier this month after a scandal over a luxurious trip to the Mediterranean with model Sofía Clerici exploded.
Bullrich scheduled her first campaign closing rally for Monday afternoon, at Barrancas de Belgrano, Buenos Aires before kick-starting her tour around five provinces. On Tuesday, the Juntos por el Cambio candidate will visit San Juan, Mendoza and San Luis, in order to underpin her performance in three of the provinces where Milei emerged triumphant in the PASO primaries. She will then go on to tour Córdoba and Santa Fe, where La Libertad Avanza also delivered an upset against Juan Schiaretti, fellow presidential candidate and current Governor of Córdoba Province.
Yet more expectation is around the Thursday rally in Lomas de Zamora, Insaurralde’s district, where Bullrich will hold her final event in the run-up to the electoral curfew on Friday. It is a significant undertaking and is an attempt to underline Kirchnerite corruption to voters. The scandal was swiftly condemned by Bullrich, who made use of the presidential debates to attack Massa and link her rival to it. She described it as "a symbol" exposing "a pattern of corruption that has been looting the country for years and years."
Over the next few days, Bullrich is expected to insist on the importance of forming work teams, trailing future appointments, recruiting political muscle and trained leaders with experience in office to carry out the transformations which, in her view, Argentina needs.
In order to settle her differences with Mauricio Macri and add to the space, Bullrich invited the former president to her recent activities, including tours of the cities of Pergamino and Junín, Buenos Aires Province. “This is a crucial momento, not a time to improvise,” stressed a source close to the former security minister.
Macri is said to value the addition of Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta into a future Bullrich administration. “People asked us to stand together and now we do. We had to go through a primary to define leadership and now it’s good that Horacio is more committed, because if there’s something good about him, it's his management capability," he said in a recent interview.
“We’re going through a time of uncertainty and madness as a country, and Horacio’s rationality is combined with Patricia’s leadership, determination and courage. Horacio will be the maker of the changes Patricia comes to implement in this country,” he remarked, adding that he sees Bullrich's chances of winning “growing step by step" and forecasting that she will "get comfortably into the run-off.”
Economy Minister Sergio Massa will spend the last week of his campaign with three closing rallies on different days, where the focus will be on calls for “government of national unity with a federal outlook” and the presentation of proposals to “get out of the crisis with more employment, production and development.” A plan for security is also in the works.
Massa began the run-up to the general election eating and talking on television, starring on Mirtha Legrand’s television programme, along with his wife. AySA waterworks chief Malena Galmarini (and actress and presenter Moria Casán).
He is scheduled to appear with Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof on Tuesday afternoon at the Arsenal de Sarandí stadium, in Sarandí, to celebrate Peronist Loyalty Day. Under the slogan “All of us United on Loyalty Day,” the ruling Unión por la Patria coalition will gather for a large celebration, similar to the Ensenada rally, to help boost votes.
Within the sphere of the provincial chief executive and the minister they took care to clarify that it is not a closing rally, but it will be one of the last activities prior to the electoral curfew on Friday – but not the only one. The idea is to bring together activists, social organisations, the CGT General Confederation of Labour and the CTA Argentine Workers’ Central Union, governors and Greater Buenos Aires mayors and show numbers.
This will take place before Massa's proselytising tours “outside Buenos Aires, at some factory, with workers,” a source close to Unión por la Patria said, saying that the economy minister would close his campaign on Thursday.
“The idea of our space is to show Massa in an executive role, in action and explaining the measures announced and coming ones to ease people’s suffering," the source stated. “We’re working on the concept of responsibility, in the face of the irresponsibility of other political leaders, with their incendiary phrases which caused the parallel dollar to soar”, he added, referring to Milei and libertarian City mayoral hopeful Ramiro Marra.
“We’ll continue to offer a federalist Massa and also insist with the idea of national unity, having a government with the best," said another party source.
After the August election, Massa has managed to redirect his attention to the campaign, although in the last few days, due to the soaring of the 'blue dollar' and the publication inflation data, he had to reschedule his agenda and cancel scheduled tours of Mendoza, San Juan and Entre Ríos to attend to urgent matters at the Economy Ministry.
The politician from Tigre, focusing on dismantling the black market operations run by financial speculators who push the parallel dollar up, remarked: “I’d rather lose the election, but I’ll send those toying with Argentines’ savings to prison."
Without a doubt, the goal for Unión por la Patria is still the same as it was when it started the campaign before the PASO primaries: to make it to the run-off and then polarise with Milei during the four weeks separating the election on October 22 and the hypothetical run-off on November 19.
From Massa’s team they assure that this goal is nearly fulfilled, and in the meantime, they value that their candidate is “serene, with capacity for work and the authority to make changes."