Presidential Election in Argentina: Key for the BRICS and for Wall Street

In Argentina’s Oct. 22 general elections, presidential candidate Sergio Massa, of the ruling Unity for the Fatherland (UP) coalition, won a surprising 36.7% of the vote, beating out Libertarian extremist Javier Milei of the Freedom Advances (LLA) party, whose 30.1% remained unchanged from his score in the Aug. 14 primaries (cf. SAS 36/23). Coming in third with 24% of the vote, neoliberal Patricia Bullrich is now out of the running. Milei, however, has called on her and her backers to join forces with him to defeat Massa in the Nov. 19 runoff election.

That Massa’s vote totals were 10% higher than the 27% he won in the August primaries surprised even many of his supporters, who are now pointing to the “Massa miracle”. He is currently Economics Minister of the government of President Alberto Fernandez, and many voters blame him for the economic disaster in a country subjected to financial warfare from the City of London and Wall Street, where inflation is nearly 140%, the poverty rate is over 40%, and supermarket shelves are often empty.

Anglo-American media also expressed shock and consternation at the surge of “populist” Massa, chief among them Financial Times which headlined its Oct. 23 coverage “Surprise win shows Peronism’s remarkable resilience”. The London daily attributes his result to the fact that he took Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s advice of a few months back to “stop collecting dollars and collect votes”. Lula had also sent in a team of about 20 election experts to help Massa shape a positive campaign message, focused on program and a future-oriented perspective, rather than simply attack Milei’s outrageous proposals (including to “dollarize” the economy).

The FT also lamented that “investors had little to cheer in Sunday’s result,” since the City’s preferred “pro-business” candidate Bullrich was eliminated, and Massa is “likely to double down” on the social welfare spending and tax reduction measures he has announced in recent weeks.

The central policy issue, however, is that Massa has stated that he intends for Argentina to join the BRICS, accepting the invitation offered at the Aug. 22-24 BRICS summit in South Africa. Both Milei and Bullrich are totally hostile to the group and its pro-development policies, and want Argentina to firmly ally with Wall Street and the IMF.

More than any increased social spending, a crucial factor in Massa’s win was the overwhelming victory of Axel Kiciloff, the incumbent governor of the province of Buenos Aires. He swept the election with 45% of the vote in the province that represents 37% of the national electorate and is the base of the country’s industrial and trade union machinery. Kiciloff, who served as Cristina Kirchner’s Finance Minister from 2013-2015, is a tough, anti-IMF hard-core Peronist.

Massa did surprisingly well in Buenos Aires, because he rode the coattails of the more popular Kiciloff. In that light, Massa might want to rethink his strategy of forming a “national unity” government with such weak, pro-IMF figures as former Finance Minister Roberto Lavagna or other questionable politicians who don’t want to alienate the “rules-based order”. Thus, a real policy brawl is expected over the next four weeks leading to Nov. 19.

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