Patricia Bullrich, presidential candidate for Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), has found herself in the unenviable position of fighting a two-front battle in the runup to October 22.
Libertarian candidate Javier Milei’s showing suggests that people are drawn to concrete proposals to fix the economy, even (and, in some cases, especially) if they’re highly unorthodox and generally deemed inadvisable. Meanwhile, Sergio Massa, Economy Minister and candidate for the ruling Unión por la Patria, is battling her for the center ground.
Faced with this scenario, Bullrich has shifted her strategy. She has tapped economist Carlos Melconian, a former Banco de la Nación Argentina president, as her prospective economy minister and has moderated her traditionally combative rhetoric.
So far, Brazil’s national mantra, “Order and Progress”, could be mistaken for Patricia Bullrich’s campaign slogan. The JxC candidate regularly laments the present state of Argentina, vows to “end Kirchnerism”, and promises to impose order on what she portrays as a country spiraling rapidly into chaos. What order means to Bullrich, and how she plans to deliver it, has been somewhat opaque.
Her discourse focuses largely on security, her former portfolio during Mauricio Macri’s 2015-2019 presidency. While episodes of narco violence in Rosario earlier this year and a spate of lootings in August captured public attention, most Argentine voters seem more concerned about electing a candidate capable of rerouting Argentina’s economy before it careens off the inflationary cliff. And to that end, Bullrich has been perceived as struggling to define a clear set of economic policies.
Unlike Javier Milei, the dark-horse-turned-heavyweight candidate, Bullrich has not waded too deeply, at least publicly, into the weeds of economic policy (and, also unlike Milei, the philosophical theories undergirding them). The libertarian’s shock victory during August’s primary elections was a wake-up call to the Bullrich camp.
Hoping he can breathe some lucidity into her policy platform, Bullrich last week announced Melconian as her pick for economy minister. The economist has spent the last months touting a major economic plan. His policy magnum opus is a liberal’s wish list: private sector deregulation, major public sector reform, and a “bi-monetization” plan that would allow both the peso and the dollar to serve as standards of deferred payment, a partway step between the present and full dollarization. Melconian is Bullrich’s response to Milei. His early nomination is a preemptive effort by the JxC candidate to assuage concerns about her campaign’s policy clarity.
In line with her appointment of Melconian, Bullrich has shifted her post-primary tone. A critical mass of Juntos por el Cambio voters supported her more moderate competitor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, and to keep them from defecting to Massa, Bullrich has dialed down the bellicosity to reinforce her centrist flank.
Massa, meanwhile, is apparently attempting to manifest his presidency. Bouncing from Washington to Asunción to Brasília and unveiling a raft of economic relief measures, the economy minister doubled this past week as Argentina’s chief statesman and top policy authority.
The economy minister’s meeting with IMF President Kristalina Georgieva locked in a US$7.5 billion cash disbursement for Argentina, despite his country’s having missed a number of key targets set out in the US$44 billion Extended Fund Facility. Days later in Brazil, Massa spearheaded a plan that would see the Latin American and Caribbean Development Bank (CAF) guarantee up to US$600 million in Brazilian exports to Argentina, whose foreign exchange reserves have run dry.
On the homefront, just days after the IMF asked Argentina to rein in public spending, Massa unveiled a hefty assistance package for workers, pensioners, and social welfare recipients. The scheme aims to to offset the effects of mounting inflation, which is expected to top 10% in August thanks to the government’s recent peso devaluation.
With his flurry of high-level, high-impact policy activity, Massa is creating the closest thing he can get to an incumbency advantage. Complementing those efforts is the fact that what was the Peronist troika of Massa, Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kircher, and President Alberto Fernández has all but collapsed. The latter two have gone dark these last weeks, leaving Massa center stage. And he’s using the spotlight to portray the Peronist bloc as unified, setting his camp against a divided right that’s gearing up for a Milei-Bullrich showdown.