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Sergio Massa will seek to build a “national unity government” with Argentina’s opposition politicians if he wins this month’s election, the presidential candidate for the country’s populist ruling coalition has said.
Massa, who is polling in second place behind hard-right radical libertarian Javier Milei and just ahead of establishment rightwing candidate Patricia Bullrich, said he would aim to include members of their parties in his government.
“If I am president, you can be sure we will call up the best people, whether they come from [Bullrich’s Juntos Por el Cambio], or even Javier Milei’s party,” he said during a televised debate on Sunday.
Massa, Argentina’s economy minister, is attempting to distance himself from the populist Peronist movement, which many voters blame for Argentina’s worst economic crisis in 20 years, and position himself for a potential run-off clash with Milei, said analysts.
He is “trying to become a change candidate”, said Lucas Romero, director of Argentine consultancy Synopsis. “He is saying his government won’t strictly be a Peronist government, and downplaying an identity that today is much diminished among voters.”
Ana Iparraguirre, a partner at Washington strategy firm GBAO, said Massa was “already thinking about facing off with Milei in a second round in November”, a scenario that would take place if they emerge as the two most voted candidates but neither gets above 40 per cent on October 22.
“He is trying to reach out to all those who would feel unrepresented in that situation, particularly moderate Juntos Por el Cambio voters who might be afraid of Milei,” she added.
Milei, an eccentric former television personality, has promised a sweeping plan to “take a chainsaw” to Argentina’s state and replace the peso with the US dollar. “The other candidates are talking to you about a model that has been drowning us for a hundred years,” he said during the debate with Massa, Bullrich and two candidates from smaller parties.
Massa, who hails from Peronism’s moderate wing, has previously been a strong critic of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the movement’s de facto leader and current vice-president. As president from 2007 to 2015 she dramatically expanded the state and implemented populist policies that made her a controversial figure for non-Peronist voters and business leaders.
Massa on Sunday said he wanted to move “towards economic modernity, obviously with fiscal balance, obviously accumulating [foreign exchange] reserves”. He criticised Milei’s dollarisation plan as “planting another flag on our central bank”.
As a minister, Massa has resorted to an unwieldy web of currency controls and the rollover of a growing pile of government debts to keep Argentina’s fragile economy afloat. The country’s foreign currency reserves, depleted by propping up the peso, are running dangerously low.
Massa has unnerved economists with measures to put money in voters’ pockets before the election, including billions of dollars of cash handouts and a law exempting all but 1 per cent of registered workers from income tax. The schemes are expected to aggravate price pressures — annual inflation hit 124 per cent in August — and widen Argentina’s fiscal deficit.
Opponents accuse him of inconsistency. “Massa, explain to Argentines how you can be a good president when you’ve been the worst economy minister,” Bullrich said on Sunday. “How can you divide yourself into two people so cynically?”
Analysts said the momentum remains with Milei, who has surged in the polls since a surprise victory at an August primary election, capturing widespread anger against the political establishment.
Massa’s unity drive may backfire by alienating fans of Kirchner, said Iparraguirre. He may also be damaged by the emergence of a corruption scandal last week in which a Peronist official was accused of improperly enriching himself after being photographed on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea with a model.
“If that case is contained and Massa continues with his performance, then he does have a chance to get into a second round,” said Juan Cruz Diaz, managing director of Buenos Aires-based advisory firm Cefeidas Group. “And if that’s between Massa and Milei, a whole new game begins. I wouldn’t count him out.”
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