Opposition leader Patricia Bullrich has confirmed she will support libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milei in the November 19 run-off.
“We have the obligation not to be neutral,” said Bullrich, who described Argentina's current government as “the worst in history.”
The PRO party chief, who finished third in last Sunday's election with 23.8 percent of the vote, announced her decision at a press conference on Wednesday.
Milei, who scored 29.9 percent, faces ruling coalition candidate, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who took 37 percent, in a crucial run-off next month that will decide the country’s path for the next four years.
"Argentina cannot start a new Kirchnerite cycle led by Sergio Massa,” argued Bullrich on Wednesday. “For 20 years they have been plunging us into decadence.”
She argued that a Massa-led government would mean “guarantee impunity" for Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and that the state would continue "to be a den of ñoquis [state employees who do nothing] and crony capitalism".
“For Argentina to move forward it needs root-and-branch reform,” she added, “to ensure capitalism and put an end to monetary emission in order to end inflation.”
The former security minister continued: “We have the conviction that only with the values of the Republic, a country without populism, can the country move forward. “When the homeland is in danger. Everything is allowed except not defending it.”
Bullrich said that Milei, an outspoken libertarian who has gone from relative unknown to potential president in just two years, had to be backed in order to eject Kirchnerism and Peronism from power.
While admitting to “differences” with him, Bullrich said Massa has to be defeated in November.
“With Milei we have differences, that’s why we were competing. We didn’t hide it. The majority of Argentines chose change” in the election and “we need a change,” she declared.
Confirming unrest within PRO among some over backing the La Libertad Avanza lawmaker in the second round, Bullrich said that the members of both her party and the coalition she leads had “freedom of action” to support whom they wish.
She said that the decision had been taken by the presidential “formula” – i.e. her and Petri – and not by the political space.
“It doesn’t signify a rupture of internal dialogue but a future strengthening of Juntos por el Cambio,” Bullrich claimed. “PRO and Radicalism have freedom of action.”
"If Kirchnerism wins, Juntos por el Cambio will be totally dissolved. With this position we are allowing Juntos por el Cambio not to be imprisoned by a new transversality."
Petri clarified: "Neutrality is functional to Kirchnerism. Today we are in favour of Javier Milei's candidacy.”
Despite those words, analysts believe the move could lead to the break-up of the opposition coalition.
Some in Bullrich’s PRO party, one of three that make-up the coalition, are at odds with leaders in the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and Cívica Coalición-ARI who are uneasy at backing Milei, who proposes vast sweeping reforms for Argentina’s economic turmoil.
"If the parties start deciding different things, it is obvious; coalitions live as long as their members want them to, they do not live forever," said former national senator and UCR leader Ernesto Sanz, one of the coalition’s founders, earlier on Wednesday.
Sanz refrained, however, from explicitly backing Massa in the run-off and instead sought neutrality from the opposition coalition.
"As a radical, I have as many weighty reasons not to be with Milei as not to be with Massa," he said.
The UCR’s national committee is due to meet at 2pm for talks over its collective position.
The position of some of PRO’s other leading figures – such as Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal and former Buenos Aires City deputy mayor Diego Santilli – remains unclear.
Most expect the trio not to publicly voice support for Milei, nor for Massa.
Bullrich, who this week re-assumed leadership of PRO after going on leave for the presidential campaign, met with key party leaders at her home in Palermo, Buenos Aires, on Wednesday morning to discuss their party’s position.
La Libertad Avanza party sources confirmed to the Noticias Argentinas news agency that Milei met with Macri the previous evening.
Bullrich revealed in her press conference that she had spoken to Milei and that both had forgiven clashes on the campaign trail. “What is at stake is more important,” she argued.
The former presidential candidate was clear on Wednesday that her support for Milei did not signify further backing in the future.
“We didn’t talk about the government, we’re not in a pact, what we have said is our posture to society. There is no dialogue about co-governance. This is a strategic political decision,” said Bullrich.
In recent days, Milei has changed his tone on Bullrich, hinting on Tuesday in an interview that she could serve as national security minister – a position she held in Mauricio Macri's 2015-2019 government – in a future administration led by him.
During the campaign Milei had accused Bullrich of having "planted bombs in kindergarten" during her youth and of being a "montonera terrorist" – remarks that prompted the PRO leader to file a legal complaint against him.
Quizzed about that allegation in her press conference, Bullrich – who firmly denies the claim – said that issues like that were part of private talks she had held with Milei.
"If we dedicate ourselves to retracting everything we did in the campaign, Kirchnerism wins," the libertarian deputy said in a television interview on Tuesday.
Bullrich, like Milei, regularly said on the campaign trail that Argentina must put “an end to Kirchnerismo” in order to move forward as a nation.
On Tuesday, two PRO figures – national deputy Waldo Wolff and Capitán Sarmiento Mayor Javier Iguacel – both came out publicly for Milei.
"With these alternatives I will support Javier. I propose that,” said Wolff, who appeared with the libertarian during an appearance on the LN+ news channel.