Libertarian lawmaker, outspoken economist and anti-establishment figurehead Javier Milei, whose rising popularity led him to be the most-voted-for candidate in Argentina’s primaries, will compete for the presidency against Patricia Bullrich, of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, and Economy Minister Sergio Massa, running for the ruling Unión por la Patria coalition.
These three candidates are the frontrunners in the general elections due to be held on 22 October, with a possible run-off vote scheduled for November 19.
Milei: Lion against the caste
With his unkempt hair and an aggressive discourse against what he calls "the political caste," Javier Milei has shaken up the status quo.
"The caste is afraid," he declared on the campaign trail, repeating his other catchphrase: "Viva la libertad, carajo!"
The 52-year-old economist, a libertarian and ultra-right-wing national deputy who proposes eliminating the Central Bank, allowing the free bearing of arms and banning abortion, has whipped up crowds into a frenzy at his campaign rallies.
"I didn't come here to lead lambs, I came here to wake up lions," he yells to supporters.
After being elected deputy in 2021, Milei began raffling off his monthly paycheque in a gesture of contempt for politicians' perks. His criticism of state intervention has echoed across the most disadvantaged areas of Argentina, where poverty is growing.
Even criticism from former allies that his party’s authorities sought payments in dollars for those who wished to run under his banner does not seem to have dented his rising popularity, especially among young men jaded or outraged by traditional politics.
Milei has published several books and at the same time has been accused of plagiarising entire paragraphs.
Single and childless, his love for his mastiff dogs and his very close relationship with his sister Karina make up, according to his own remarks, his most immediate circle of affection.
Massa: Politically savvy
A 51-year-old lawyer with vast experience, Sergio Massa took over Argentina’s Economy Ministry a year ago, at one of the worst moments of Argentina's prolonged crisis. Smiling and politically savvy, he has the ability to present difficulties as achievements, at least among his supporters.
"He came to put order in the ministry. It was a titanic task," said Peronist leader Jorge Ferraresi.
Despite the fact that inflation (115 percent year-on-year) and poverty (40 percent) are peaking, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner praises him for his economic management of recent months.
"Sergio, you took charge at a very difficult, very complex time. You didn't give up, you went forward and that's always good," said the leader of the ruling Unión por la Patria coalition at a recent rally.
A man of ambition, Massa has made and broken political alliances along his path to the presidential nomination. In 2013 he created the Frente Renovador, a centrist party as an alternative to the politics of Fernández de Kirchner, whom he had accompanied in office as Cabinet chief between 2008 and 2009.
"He has one strength: he is very close to the circle of power in politics, the media and business," described political scientist Paola Zubán.
The son of Italian immigrants, Massa grew up on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and was previously mayor of Tigre. He is married and has two children.
Bullrich: Iron fist
Aged 67 and engaged in politics since she was a teenager, when she joined the Peronist Youth in Argentina’s turbulent 1970s, at the height of the Montoneros guerrilla movement, Patricia Bullrich today offers herself as the iron fist for a country in crisis. "It's all or nothing,” she claims in her advertising messages.
Her family's history is linked to that of Argentina. His great-grandfather Honorio Pueyrredón was a prominent Radical leader and the Bullrich family owned the most important cattle auction house in Buenos Aires in the 19th century. Patricia’s brother-in-law Rodolfo Galimberti was an important leader in the Montoneros and her cousin Fabiana Cantilo is a leading figure in national rock.
Bullrich served as security minister in Mauricio Macri’s 2015-2019 government and labour minister in Fernando de la Rúa's 1999-2001 government. President of the PRO party (though on leave for the election campaign), she has cultivated an image of a determined, uncompromising woman.
"She is characterised by courage, decisiveness and firmness. She has a great capacity for political evaluation," said outspoken lawmaker Fernando Iglesias, a close ally.
Bullrich has a son, Francisco Langieri, born in 1979 when she returned to Argentina after years in exile with her then-partner Marcelo ‘Pancho’ Langieri. Her current husband is the lawyer Guillermo Yanco.