At A Crossroads:

On 22 October, Argentina found itself at the center of the world’s attention as it held much-anticipated presidential elections. South American political leaders were particularly concerned about the possibility that a far-right candidate could become Argentina’s next president. Despite its history of progress and growth, Argentina has dealt with a series of political, economic and social crises in recent decades that have spawned political mistrust and instability.

The current Argentinian government has been unable to break the cycle of economic stagnation and failed to deliver change in response to the most basic demands from the people. Furthermore, economic problems including budget deficits, external debt, high inflation, and poverty rates above 40 percent have contributed to low approval ratings for President Alberto Fernández. Traditional political groups have also seen their popularity wane amidst political fatigue with their representatives’ performance. Likewise, the weaknesses of the Peronism-Kirchnerism coalition led to the defeat of that group in the legislature. With these forces unable to form coalitions to govern, the traditional right—in the form of Macriism—reemerged. Meanwhile, an outsider candidate was able to develop a following through anti-establishment speeches and an undemocratic policy platform.

The October 2023 elections differed from previous elections in Argentina. There were two candidates who emerged with a chance at victory: Peronist Sergio Massa and ultra-right Javier Milei. The latter was also in a battle against the moderate right, represented by Patricia Bullrich, to gain the trust of an electorate disenchanted with a political class that has been unable to respond to citizens’ problems and demands. This discontent was reflected in voting intention polls, in which Milei came in first, and suggested there was more than one potential opponent he might face in the second round.

However, fearmongering about what a Milei victory could do to Argentina proved an effective political strategy against the right-wing candidate. Amidst anti-Kirchnerist sentiment, it guaranteed that Massa would come in first at the ballot box.

Massa’s first-round win was unexpected, since during his tenure as minister of economy Argentina experienced year-on-year inflation as high as 140 percent. Although Massa is a member of the current government who does not identify politically with Kirchnerism, (a center-left political movement that brings together ideological variants of Peronism (popular nationalism) and the ideology of former Presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (regional alignment instead of imperialist multiculturalism). He is seen as interposing two political movements that could further harm Argentina’s democracy.

Massa’s proposals are grounded in progressive policies. He has said he would pursue a balanced fiscal policy, trade surplus, competitive exchange rate, and inclusive development. In accordance with Peronist ideology, Massa’s platform focuses on welfare policy and economic balancing through better income distribution, expanding the public education system, improving education, creating more job opportunities, combating informality, and simplifying taxes so that small and medium-sized companies could regularize their employees. In addition, he has proposed creating a better structured intelligence agency to improve public security and combat drug trafficking.

Milei, on the other hand, has styled himself as an alternative to the old politics and focused on the non-interference of the state in individual freedoms. In other words, he is running under the banner of anarcho-libertarianism with an ideology that would compromise democracy, foreign relations, and human rights. For Milei, libertarian revolution is the only path to Argentina becoming a world power. This is why he supports the non-intervention of the state in the economy and self-determination of citizens. The ramifications of these proposals would include the closure of the Central Bank to end inflation as well as anti-immigration policies, dollarization of the currency, establishing an organ market, taking a tough line against crime, reforming the justice system (due to unequal treatment before the law), and alignment with non-communist countries.

In the days before the runoff election, the race between Milei and Massa remains tight, and the outcome might not be clear until 19 November. The campaigns have been marked by a shifting political scene: Milei has given more moderate speeches in which he casts himself as the only option for voters who want change, while Massa has emphasized he is the serious and reliable candidate. The latter has sought win over part of Bullrich’s constituency by exposing his opponent’s explosive and unstable personality.

The winner of the November runoff election will face governance challenges exacerbated by social unrest and the inflation crisis. If Milei wins, he will lack the majority in Congress necessary to pass his radical proposals, and will have a limited following in the provinces. There will also likely be strong resistance to his foreign policy since Milei plans to withdraw from Mercosur and cut Argentina’s ties with countries that he considers communist, such as Brazil, China and Russia, which are key BRICS trading partners. Such policies would generate serious political and economic tensions and erode economic and political support for Argentina.

If Massa wins, he will also have a challenging path forward with little capacity to carry out significant reforms to protect the well-being of the Argentinian people. With regard to foreign policy, Massa seems to grasp that multilateral relations are important to strengthening the Argentinian economy. Massa would likely be more willing than his opponent to continue old and new trade alliances and would not seek to distance Argentina from BRICS, the US, or Mercosur