Argentina’s Political Landscape Set to Transform in Crucial Elections

Argentines are gearing up for general elections that could reshape the country’s political landscape, as both mainstream parties grapple with the aftermath of numerous economic crises and the rise of libertarian outsider Javier Milei.

The current economic situation in Argentina is dire, with an annual inflation rate of 138 percent and 40 percent of the population living in poverty. The incumbent president, Alberto Fernández, who belongs to the center-left Peronist movement, has decided not to seek re-election after nearly four years in power, given his plummeting popularity.

In a surprising turn of events, former President and current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, known for her left-wing Peronist stance, is also absent from the ballot. She has maintained a low profile since a corruption conviction in December of the previous year.

Sergio Massa, the economy minister representing the more pragmatic faction of the Peronist coalition, is now the Peronist candidate for the presidency. On the other side, Patricia Bullrich, former security minister from the pro-business opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), is also in the running.

Until the August primary elections, JxC was the front-runner. However, the political landscape has been disrupted by the emergence of Javier Milei, a radical first-term congressman advocating for a 15 percent cut in government spending and the dollarization of Argentina’s economy. Milei blames both Peronism and the government of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) for Argentina’s chronic economic crises and is now the narrow favorite to win.

Milei’s sudden rise to prominence has coincided with a shift in leadership within the two main parties. This election marks the first time in over two decades that neither Macri nor a Kirchner is on the ballot.

This change in the political landscape may lead to a significant reshuffling of Argentina’s main political forces, including within Peronism. The party has shifted to the left over the past two decades under Fernández de Kirchner’s influence. Peronism is currently at its weakest point in 40 years, and the future direction of the party may depend on Massa’s performance.

Some former Peronist supporters are turning to Milei, disillusioned by the perceived ineffectiveness of Kirchnerism. They are looking for new approaches to improve their lives and economic prospects.

Most pre-election polls in Argentina are unreliable, but many expect Milei to come in first on October 22 and advance to a second-round run-off in November against either Massa or Bullrich.

To win the presidency outright on the first round, a candidate needs to secure 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the closest competitor.

If Milei wins, JxC, a coalition united mostly in opposition to Peronism, faces an existential crisis. There may be divisions within the coalition on how to support Milei’s proposed reforms.

Deal-making between parties in Congress will be crucial, as it’s unlikely any of the three candidates will hold a majority in either house after the election. Analysts anticipate that Argentina’s dire financial situation will force the next president to adopt more orthodox economic policies.

Massa has promised to stabilize the economy if elected, but his record in the government over the past 14 months has not inspired confidence. The country faces significant challenges, with a negative balance in the central bank’s foreign currency reserves, mounting debts, and no access to international capital markets.

Economists warn that the need to dismantle inflation control measures could lead to even higher inflation and the risk of hyperinflation. The path forward for Argentina remains uncertain, and the hope is to emerge from the current crisis in better shape by the end of 2024.