Friday, December 1, 2023

ARGENTINA | 19-10-2023 22:08

Old guard vs upstart: Argentina's presidential candidates

Leading candidates are battling for three different visions of Argentina, centred on their proposed remedies for the country's perennial economic ills.

Argentina's election Sunday will see a chainsaw-wielding, TikTok-savvy outsider take on an economy minister who has overseen record inflation and a tough-talking former security minister. 

The leading candidates are battling for three very different visions of Argentina, centred on their proposed remedies for the country's perennial economic ills.

So who is in the running?


Javier Milei: 'TikTok guy' with chainsaw

Buenos Aires lawmaker Javier Milei pulled off a massive upset when he finished first in primary elections in August with more than 30 percent of the vote.

The libertarian with dishevelled hair and a rock-star persona has grabbed public attention with diatribes on television and social media – where he vows to "dynamite" the central bank and ditch the peso for the US dollar.

He has maintained his lead in the polls, showing up at rallies brandishing a powered-up chainsaw to evoke the cuts he plans to make to the bloated state.

Some observers are alarmed at the emergence of yet another populist drawing comparisons to former US president Donald Trump and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro. 

But for many fed-up Argentines, Milei – who slams the "thieving and useless political caste" that has been running the country – is a glimmer of hope in the face of a seemingly endless economic quagmire.

Buenos-Aires based economist Andres Borenstein, with the Econviews think tank, said that weary Argentines throwing their lot in with Milei were "gambling for resurrection. It's double or nothing."

"And that's one of the reasons why Milei became very popular because he appeals to the emotion. He's a TikTok guy," he said.

After decades of politics dominated by the populist Peronist movement – heavy on state intervention and welfare programmes – the economy has lurched between debt defaults and inflationary crises.

Milei has vowed to cut public services and plans to ditch the ministries of health, education, gender and the environment, among others.

He also wants to ban abortion and make it easier to buy guns. He denies mankind is responsible for climate change.

Single and childless, Milei is known for his love of dogs, and owns several large mastiffs named after liberal economists.

He turns 53 on election day.


Sergio Massa: under-fire economy minister

Since he took office a year ago, Sergio Massa has overseen Argentina's economy as it hit annual inflation levels of 138 percent and historic poverty of 40 percent.

Nevertheless, the charismatic 51-year-old lawyer-turned-politician was chosen as the best option to represent the centre-left Peronist ruling coalition, which has grown deeply unpopular.

In 2008 and 2009, Massa was Cabinet chief to then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The two had a bitter falling out but reconciled for 2019 elections won by President Alberto Fernández with Fernández de Kirchner as vice-president.

In July last year, he was named "super minister" of a portfolio bringing together the Economy, Productive Development, and Agriculture, Fisheries & Livestock ministries in a bid to calm the economic crisis.

The minister managed to renegotiate the repayment of a US$44-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

In the final run-up to the election, he has gone on a spending spree to lure voters.

Massa has eliminated income tax for some 800,000 citizens, removed VAT levies from basic goods, and granted cash payouts to millions of informal workers.

"The government, in order to improve its very poor electoral prospects, is doing things that make a fragile economic situation even worse," said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.

The son of Italian immigrants, Massa studied law and economics before entering politics, notably becoming a regional lawmaker at only 28.

He is married and has two children.


Patricia Bullrich: 'All or nothing' hardliner

Patricia Bullrich, 67, the presidential candidate for the centre-right opposition coalition, campaigned on the slogan "all or nothing."

She has called for a harsh audit of the country's plethora of social assistance programmes, budget cuts, and the liberalization of currency exchange controls.

Bullrich has also said she will implement a dual currency regime with both the peso and the dollar as legal tender.

She has been involved in politics since adolescence, when she was a far-left activist during the turbulent 1970s, and spent several years in exile under the country's military dictatorship.

She has since swung to the right, talking tough on crime, social movements, and the economy.

The candidate comes from a prominent and wealthy family – her parents' surnames, Bullrich and Pueyrredón, feature on streets and buildings in Buenos Aires.

Married and mother to a son, she has served in several governments, including as security minister under former president Mauricio Macri.

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by Fran Blandy, AFP


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