With a change in the direction of her campaign strategy, Juntos por el Cambio presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich presented economist Carlos Melconian as her prospective Economy minister if she wins the October 22 general elections.
In an event organized by think tank Fundación Mediterránea on Thursday noon, Melconian — a high-profile economist who was president of the Banco Nación bank during Mauricio Macri’s government — talked about an economic program with a humanitarian approach without leaving austerity behind, distancing his coalition from libertarian contender Javier Milei’s discourse and aiming to attract some of Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s voters.
Massa is ruling coalition Unión por la Patria’s presidential candidate.
“We don’t want to make just any transformation,” Melconian said, “but a deep, disruptive transformation that changes how the Argentine economy works from the root.”
Melconian is the president of Fundación Mediterránea’s Institute for the Economic Studies on the Argentine and Latin American Reality (IERAL, by its Spanish acronym). He joined the foundation in 2021 to lead the design of an economic program the institution intended to present to one of the 2023 presidential candidates. After the primaries, they decided to hand it over to Bullrich.
The economist emphasized the importance of “respecting private property and private investment” to “create economic growth and jobs”, saying the economic program IERAL designed strives towards stability “but bringing back a horizon, a sense of future” for people. “A true transformation that ends our compatriots’ frustrations,” that is “disruptive but within the system,” respecting Argentina’s institutions, he said.
Melconian said Argentina’s “precarious structural situation” is a product of “economic stagnation, unfinanceable public spending, asphyxiating tax pressure, high inflation, a broken Central Bank, chronic disinvestment, export weakness due to lack of competitivity, degraded jobs and entrenched poverty”.
“We don’t want to make cuts, that is already happening now,” Melconian said, while also stating Bullrich’s government would be austere, as she has been saying since the campaign started. “We are here to give solutions, not cuts. This has a solution, and it involves all of us. There’s no magician or magic trick that can solve this.”
With a focus on “untangling the tax and exchange knot” for companies and protecting private property, Melconian said he wants to promote a “virtuous circle of reinvestment, activity and jobs.”
Fundación Mediterránea is a liberal think tank created by businessmen in Córdoba province in 1977, during the last military dictatorship, to promote the interests of the companies located in provinces far from the Buenos Aires metropolis. Many Fundación Mediterránea economists were public officers during Domingo Cavallo’s term as Economy minister when Carlos Menem was president in the 1990s.
Provincial approach is key
The think tank’s federal approach might be key for JxC to try to capture the large number of votes Milei got in the provinces. While in Buenos Aires City JxC won with 48% of the vote and Milei was left in third place with only 17%, in provinces like Salta, Jujuy, Misiones (which are traditionally peronist) and Mendoza (where JxC is currently ruling) Milei got 40% or more. Those votes led to his national-wide victory.
Until now, Bullrich had been trying to compete with Milei for the right-wing vote, with a discourse against public spending, harsh measures against insecurity and major economic reforms, such as eliminating all export duties on her first day in office. However, her strategy seems to be rapidly changing. She is maintaining her austerity proposals, but with a more gradualist, moderate and hopeful tone, akin to Massa’s.
During the event, Bullrich said she wants to “stop the chaos” Argentina is currently undergoing with order in the economy, education and the relationship with the provinces.
“This is an economy for the people, a humanist economy, that puts people in the center,” Bullrich said, “This is not just about numbers. Numbers are important too, but we have to understand that behind everything we do there is a family that needs predictability to believe in an Argentina with a future.”
“We want that humanist Argentina. We must see people, families, companies, entrepreneurs in the center of a country’s economy. If the human being is alright, the economy will be alright,” Bullrich added.