A Presidential Debate in Argentina

A presidential debate in Argentina. (AP)

Explainer: Who's Who in Argentina's 2023 Presidential Race?

By Chase Harrison

Learn more about candidates Patricia Bullrich, Sergio Massa, and Javier Milei, as well as their proposals to solve Argentina’s economic crisis.

Weeks out from Argentina’s first-round October 22 presidential election, it’s a three-horse race with Patricia Bullrich, Sergio Massa, and Javier Milei all polling above 20 percent. That’s unusual for Argentina, where presidential races are usually contests between two candidates, one representing the Peronists and the other the anti-Peronists. 

But now, two major candidates in this race—Milei and Bullrich—are running in the anti-Peronist lane. And while both are critics of the incumbent government, each has their own policy niche. Milei has proposed dollarizing Argentina’s economy while Bullrich is pitching a hard-on-crime strategy. Meanwhile, Massa, a Peronist, is proposing himself as a unity candidate and distancing himself from his own party’s leadership. 

The novel arrangement of Argentina’s candidates is perhaps a response to its not so novel economic conditions. Once again, Argentina finds itself struggling with annual inflation over 120 percent and the poverty rate stood at 40 percent halfway through this year. A September CB Consultora poll puts disapproval of the current government at 75 percent.

A candidate must receive 45 percent of the vote to win in the first round, or 40 percent with a 10-percent advantage over the runner-up. Otherwise, the top two candidates will face each other in a November 19 runoff. Voting is obligatory for all voters except those 16 to 18 years old. 

Who are the major three candidates running for president? And what is their approval, according to CB Consultora? AS/COA Online covers the top three contenders in order of polling, as well as the two candidates who round out the field.

Javier Milei

Running mate: National Deputy for Buenos Aires Victoria Villarruel 

Milei by the numbers: 

  • Percentage won in the PASO: 30.0% (He was the only candidate in his coalition) 
  • States won in the PASO: 16 out of 24 
  • Approval: 44.2% 
  • Disapproval: 48.5% 
Javier Milei

Leading most polls is Javier Milei who is running with the Liberty Advances coalition and who won the most votes in the August PASO vote. An economist by trade, Milei has served as a federal deputy for Buenos Aires since 2021. In this position, he’s become the primary voice for Argentina’s far right and a brand of libertarianism that seeks to upend the country’s economic system. Take his most prominent idea: dollarization. Milei proposes to scrap the Argentine peso and replace it with the U.S. dollar, shuttering the Central Bank in the process.  Critics argue that Milei’s plans of how he will achieve dollarization remain unclear. Meanwhile, some say Milei’s call for dollarization and his subsequent call for Argentines to abandon saving in pesos may have exacerbated the depreciation of the national currency. 

Aside from his dollarization pitch, Milei is also seeking to cut government spending by between 10 to 15 percent. This would partially be enabled by shrinking the purview of state institutions and eliminating entire ministries

Milei is also socially conservative—opposing reproductive rights and sex education, as well as being a non-believer when it comes to climate change. He’s spoken about loosening the country’s gun-control laws and he’s a major critic of the pope

Milei outperformed expectations in the PASO, winning about 30 percent of the vote and in 16 of the 23 provinces. As Anna-Catherine Brigida to AS/COA’s Latin America in Focus, Milei and his ideas are appealing to Argentines seeking a drastic response to the country’s economic conditions. He has a band of young and outspoken supporters on social media who may help him turn out the vote. Still, Milei’s Liberty Advances coalition is new and lacks incumbent politicians or party infrastructure that traditionally enable voting mobilization in Argentina. 

Fun fact: As an homage to his plan to “chainsaw” Argentina’s current economic policy, Milei often carries around a working version of the power tool at his rallies.

Sergio Massa

Running mate: Former Minister of Defense, National Deputy for Santa Fe and current Chief of the Cabinet Agustín Rossi 

By the numbers: 

  • Percentage won in the PASO: 21.4% (His coalition overall won 27.3%) 
  • States won in the PASO: 5 of 24 
  • Approval: 34.4% 
  • Disapproval: 60.0% 
Sergio Massa

The ruling Peronist coalition, known as Union for the Homeland, will be represented by Sergio Massa in this election. Massa, a former mayor and national deputy, has served as economy minister since August 2022. Though a member of both the cabinets of President Alberto Fernández and, previously, ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, neither figure features prominently in Massa’s campaign. Fernández has a sub-20-percent approval rating. Fernández de Kirchner, meanwhile, has been beset by questions of corruption. As such, Massa is seeking to distinguish himself as a moderate and unity candidate, saying that he will bring together different political factions in his government, including members of both Bullrich and Milei’s teams.

Even with this objective, Massa must defend policies he has undertaken as part of the current government. He argues the economy would be worse without his management, and he’s blamed some of the woes on the mismanagement of his predecessor. Still, during presidential debates, his rivals have attacked his stewardship as the economy minister. 

In the weeks leading up to the election, Massa unveiled new economic efforts. In August, he secured $1.3 billion in loans that went to food security and providing credit to small and medium-sized businesses. And he passed a measure that exempted all but 1 percent of registered workers from paying income tax. In his campaign, he’s proposed higher penalties on tax evasion, a new anti-money laundering law, and a lower value-added tax for workers. He’s also proposed a national digital currency, which he claims will help facilitate easier transactions.  

Fun fact: When it comes to road trip music, Massa’s Spotify playlist includes Pablo Lescano, Gilda, and—even though he admitted some may not be pleased with the choice—Ricardo Arjona.

Patricia Bullrich

Running mate: Former National Deputy for Mendoza Luis Petri 

By the numbers: 

  • Percentage won in the PASO: 17.0% (Her coalition overall won 28.3%)
  • States won in the PASO: 2 of 23 and the City of Buenos Aires 
  • Approval: 36.7% 
  • Disapproval: 55.1%
Patricia Bullrich

Economics might be the most talked about issue in the Argentine presidential race, but candidate Patricia Bullrich of the opposition United for Change coalition has centered her campaign on a different issue: crime. The former security minister (2015–2019) is responding to a perceived rise in insecurity in the country. While crime is up from record lows in 2021, independent fact checker Chequeado notes that figures, like the homicide rate, were no better during Bullrich’s tenure as security minister. Still, high-profile murders linked to drug trafficking, especially in northern states like Santa Fe, have led to a perception that crime is one of Argentina’s foremost problems. In a May survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they believed crime had risen significantly in Argentina in recent months. 

Bullrich’s solution is a tough-on-crime approach that seeks to empower Argentina’s security institutions. She wants to deploy federal forces to drug trafficking hotspots and to create a special criminal intelligence police to crack down on gangs. She has plans to build a state-of-the-art prison for drug traffickers. The prison, per a Bullrich TV spot, would bear the name of Fernández de Kirchner. 

Bullrich has also been a vocal critic of Argentina’s economic policy, calling the last 20 years a failure. She is proposing a reduction in spending, the removal of currency controls, and a review of Argentina’s tax and fiscal laws to simplify financial framework. She rejects dollarization, instead proposing a system where both Argentine pesos and U.S. dollars are both legal tender linked by a complementary exchange rate. 

Fun fact: While security minister, Bullrich would often dress as a soldier and pose for photos of her attending drug seizures and arrests.

Juan Schiaretti and Myriam Bregman

Two other candidates qualified for the October 22 presidential ballot by receiving more than 1.5 percent of the vote in the PASO. 

Juan Schiaretti of the We Do for Our Country coalition earned 3.8 percent of the vote. Schiaretti is the governor of Córdoba and a more moderate Peronist. 

Myriam Bregman of the Left and Workers’ Front Unity coalition received 1.9 percent of the vote. Bregman, a leftist, is a national deputy for Buenos Aires. 

Both candidates are polling below 5 percent but have partaken in the debates. Analysts have questioned whether the performance of either candidate altered the playing field.