On October 22nd, Argentina will hold an election to select its next president, with significant implications for the nation. Three candidates are contesting the election, with contrasting solutions for solving Argentina’s ongoing economic recession.
A century of economic stagnation
From 1976 until 1982, Argentina was ruled by a military junta, the ‘dictadura’, which suppressed democratic movements and dissent. Upon the collapse of the junta, power within the Argentine legislature was largely held by Peronist parties. Peronism is an ideology espoused by former President Juan Perón as a ‘third position’ between communism and capitalism. The Peronist Justicialist Party has dominated Argentine politics, but mismanagement of the current Argentine economic recession has rendered them deeply unpopular. Correspondingly, high inflation has increased the cost of living throughout the country, leading many to flock towards alternative candidates.
A medley of candidates with an array of solutions
The leading candidate is Javier Milei, a former television personality who has captivated Argentines through his fiery rhetoric. Described as a “trump admirer”, Milei has pledged to abolish the Central Bank, dollarize the economy and massively deregulate the financial sector. A self-described right-wing libertarian, Milei has also argued for the rollback of abortion rights, codified by a 2020 senate bill. Concerning foreign policy, Milei has pushed for closer relations with the United States, and rejected the idea of closer ties with China. Milei shocked the Argentine political establishment with his primary election victory, securing a thirty-percent plurality.
The establishment has rallied around current Economic Minister Sergio Massa, who has looked to distance himself from the ruling government’s rampant infighting. A centrist, Massa has sought to portray himself as a ‘steady hand’ to steer the Argentine economy, despite presiding over the current economic meltdown. Still, Massa secured a 7.5 billion dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund, while maintaining public spending. Massa has contrasted Milei’s drastic rhetoric through advocating for unity, pledging to cross party lines for solutions. Massa finished second in the polls after Milei, securing twenty-seven percent of votes.
The last candidate is Patricia Bullrich, a self-described ‘traditional conservative’. An established politician, Bullrich served as Minister of Security in previous governments. As a candidate, Bullrich has championed a ‘pro-market’ government, including sweeping deregulation and increased privatization. Bullrich vowed to “wipe inflation off the map”, but has faced criticism for lacking substantive solutions in order to actually combat the economic crisis. Bullrich has positioned herself as a ‘law and order’ social conservative, Bullrich has voiced her opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. Bullrich secured seventeen percent of primary votes.
The economic outlook: opportunities and perils
No matter the outcome, Argentina’s election will doubtlessly herald major upheaval throughout the country. The next president will inherit a dysfunctional economy and divided nation— the ‘endless’ economic crisis has piled up mountains of foreign debt, while Argentines remain increasingly polarized, and distrustful of their government. Whether through Milei’s dollarization project, Bullrich’s shock-therapy, or Massa’s steady hand, it appears clear that without change, Argentina will continue to waver on the precipice of total catastrophe.
Internationally, the election results could have a disproportionately large impact on the global energy market. In the midst of escalating global competition over control of the strategic lithium industry, Argentina will have the opportunity to play a key role as the US seeks to displace China’s dominance. A top-five lithium exporter with huge untapped deposits of the mineral, Argentina is quietly positioning itself to become a major global supplier. The bulk of Argentina’s lithium is derived from the ‘Lithium Triangle’, a region divided between Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, where half of the world’s lithium supplies lie under Andean salt flats. In Bolivia, the government of Luis Arce has attempted a state-led effort, with former Vice-President Linera arguing for one-hundred percent state control over lithium extraction. Yet, this strategy has led to dismal results, with the government’s state-led pitch unsurprisingly failing to attract investors, and domestic capital insufficient to develop a competitive lithium industry.
On the other hand, neighboring Chile has taken full advantage, becoming the world’s second-largest exporter of lithium, with nearly one-third of global lithium supply harvested in Chilean salt flats. Chile has used this newfound national resource to dominate global markets, and court generous foreign investment. It remains to be seen, however, if Argentina will be able to emulate the Chilean model. China’s overtures have already begun, with Chinese miner Tibet Summit investing some 1.7 billion dollars in Argentine lithium mining projects. The US, on the other hand, has struggled to keep pace with China’s bold investments, though they are slowly catching up.
Consequently, the future president will doubtlessly need to play a careful balancing act, attempting to maximize Argentina’s benefit from their massive lithium deposits, while simultaneously maintaining friendly relations with the global hegemons as they endeavor to court Argentina’s new leadership. It remains to be seen whether Argentina will follow Chile’s lead, and crawl away from the precipice of economic disaster, or tumble into the hole decades of mismanagement has dug.
Edited by Tatum Hiller
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Photo by Joshua Roberts