An election poster in Argentina. (AP)

An election poster in Argentina. (AP)

What Are Argentina's PASO Presidential Primaries and Who's Running?

By Chase Harrison

On August 13, Argentine voters will narrow down the presidential field. Learn about the process and top contenders.

Argentina’s presidential election doesn’t take place until October 22, but voters will have an opportunity to give an early indication of their preferences on August 13. That’s the day the country will hold its presidential primary, known as the PASO.

In the PASO—which stands for Open, Simultaneous, and Obligatory Primaries—every coalition holds a primary and all voters aged 18 to 70 must cast a ballot (voting is optional for those 16 to 17 and 70 and up). The primaries are open in the sense that voters are free to cast a ballot in any one contest they please, regardless of party affiliation. The system was put into place in 2009.

Though many coalitions will use the primary to select between rival presidential contenders, the PASO matters even for coalitions with one candidate running to be its nominee. If a candidate does not receive 1.5 percent of the total vote in the primary, he or she will not be on the ballot in the general election.

The PASO ballots will also include primaries for the available Senate and the Chamber of Deputies seats. Each presidential and vice presidential ticket has candidate lists for both houses of Congress. The winning ticket’s lists become the coalition’s nominees. Politicians can appear on multiple candidates’ legislative lists.

Even before the PASO, Argentina’s crowded presidential field was already winnowed down. June 24 marked the deadline for the registration of coalitions and candidates for the PASO. This produced a scramble to finalize which parties were in each coalition, the names of each coalition, who would be competing for the coalition’s presidential and vice presidential nomination, and who would comprise each ticket’s proposed legislative list

Which coalitions are competing for a shot at the Casa Rosada? Who are the main candidates? And what does polling indicate? AS/COA Online explains.

United for Change Coalition

Composed of many of Argentina’s major center-right and right opposition parties, the United for Change coalition leads polling, capturing 33.8 percent of the vote in CB Consultora’s June poll. The coalition, which won the presidency in 2015 with candidate Mauricio Macri, renamed itself from Let’s Change but has retained many of the same parties and leaders, as well its stance against the ruling Peronists.

The most competitive primary in the PASO will take place within United for Change between former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and current Mayor of Buenos Aires Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

So far, the rivalry between Bullrich and Larreta is tense. Larreta called Bullrich’s governance approach “failed.” Bullrich said Larreta is “an opportunist.” In 19 of 24 provinces, Larreta and Bullrich are presenting different lists for legislatures. Coalition unity is not guaranteed after the PASO. According to pollster Poliarquía, about 30 percent of the supporters of both Bullrich or Larreta will not support the other candidate in a general election.

Patricia Bullrich, PRO Party

Patricia Bullrich

Of the two United for Change contenders, Bullrich represents the more right-wing option. She developed a tough-on-crime reputation during her time as security minister, and she is known for her defense of the police’s use of force. Her campaign proposals reflect this; she seeks to empower Argentina’s armed forces. That may appeal to Argentines for whom rising crime is a top issue. In a May survey, Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they believed crime had risen significantly in Argentina in recent months.

Bullrich has called the last 20 years of economic policy in Argentina a failure. Her economic plan would see steep reductions in spending, the removal of currency controls, and a thorough review of Argentina’s tax and fiscal laws to simplify financial framework. Rather than dollarization, Bullrich supports a system where both Argentine pesos and dollars are used within the economy. 

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Republican Proposal Party

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta

The more moderate of the United for Change candidates, Larreta is pitching himself as the solution to Argentina’s fractured and polarized politics. The two-term Buenos Aires mayor is one of Argentina’s most popular politicians; 40 percent of Argentines approved of him in a March Isonomía poll, the highest of any politician in the poll. 

Larreta is basing his presidential platform around three major issues: education, labor, and security. His plans include expanding internet access in schools, decreasing penalties for informal labor, and strengthening the police forces. On the economy, Larreta has spoken about stabilizing the exchange rate and expanding exports, especially through the approval of the EU-Mercosur agreement

Union for the Homeland Coalition

The ruling Peronists will be called the Union for the Homeland in this election—a change from its 2019 electoral name of Everyone’s Front. Its presidential and vice presidential candidates will be different from the previous election, too. Both President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided not to run for the presidency.

Sergio Massa, Renewal Front Party

Sergio Massa

The favorite for the Union for the Homeland coalition is Sergio Massa, the current economy minister. Massa’s status as the coalition's favored candidate was far from inevitable. In fact, just before the June 24 deadline, it seemed that the Union for the Homeland primary would be between former Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, who is allied with President Fernández, and Minister of the Interior Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro, who is allied with Vice President Fernández de Kirchner.

But then a tweet by the Union for the Homeland account sent just before the registration deadline announced that Massa would be running and both Scioli and de Pedro would not. In turn, legislative lists favor heavy representation for candidates affiliated with the Fernández and Fernández de Kirchner. Both politicians support Massa, but he is not directly allied with either leader’s factions with the coalition. Massa’s vice presidential nominee, Agustín Rossi, serves as Fernández’s chief of staff and is an ally of both the president and vice president.

Massa—a former mayor, national deputy, and Fernández de Kirchner cabinet member—has served as economy minister for nearly a year. In that role, he’s attempted to tackle Argentina’s mounting inflation, forecasted at 142 percent this year. He also has pushed for growth through infrastructure projects to develop Argentina’s natural gas sector. To win, Massa will have to convince Argentines that although the economy has continued to struggle, it would be worse off without him. In the campaign, Massa may highlight his role leading Argentina’s negotiations with the IMF and his positive relationship with Argentina’s business, as compared to other figures within his coalition. The minister will also have to battle national frustration with the government of Fernández, who has a sub-20-percent approval rating.

Massa does face an opponent in the race, though. He will compete in the PASO against activist Juan Grabois, who founded the Movement of Excluded Workers. Grabois is a well-known leftist and Catholic social leader in Argentina. 

Liberty Advances Coalition

Four right-wing parties are uniting as the Liberty Advances coalition, mainly to support the candidacy of Javier Milei and his libertarian policies.

Javier Milei, Libertarian Party

Javier Milei

A federal deputy for Buenos Aires since 2021, Milei has capitalized on frustration with the status quo to grow his political profile as a voice for the far right in Argentina. He is socially conservative and opposes reproductive rights and sex education, as well as being non-believer in climate change. On economics, he advocates for the abolition of the Central Bank, the adoption of the U.S. dollar as legal tender, and for more tax income to go to the provinces rather than the federal government. 

Some polls show Milei having the highest level of support of any individual candidate in the PASO, even though his coalition polls below United for Change and Union for the Homeland, both of which have contested primaries. Still, a dominant performance in the PASO may boost Milei’s chances of making the runoff.

However, questions remain about Milei’s ceiling of support, especially after his coalition underperformed in June regional elections. He’s also been accused of selling legislative places in his coalitional list. 

Other coalitions

Twelve other coalitions will compete in the PASO; three have multiple presidential candidates in the PASO. Only three candidates outside of the top three coalitions poll above 1.5 percent necessary to make the general election ballot. These include two Peronists: Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti of the We Do for Our Country coalition, who polls at 3.3 percent, and former Minister of Domestic Trade Guillermo Moreno of the Principles and Values coalition, who polls at 2.3 percent. National Deputy Myriam Bregman, one of three candidates for the leftist Workers' Left Front – Unity coalition, polls at the threshold of 1.5 percent.