Argentina’s Bullrich Signals Support for Milei Ahead of Runoff

(Bloomberg) -- Argentine presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich said she has patched up differences with Javier Milei as he heads into a runoff vote next month, while stopping short of an outright endorsement of the upstart libertarian.

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Bullrich walked a fine line in her comments Wednesday after the Oct. 22 general election, in which her pro-business coalition was eliminated from the race after finishing third with only 24% support. Milei won 30% of ballots cast, putting him in second behind Economy Minister Sergio Massa, after the Peronist candidate surged into first place with 37% of the vote.

“We can’t stay neutral,” Bullrich told reporters in Buenos Aires. “The country is at risk.”

She railed against the legacy of Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the symbolic leader of the Peronist movement, warning her own party’s future is at stake should the government remain in power. “If Kirchner’s party wins, Juntos por el Cambio is going toward a total dissolution,” Bullrich said.

The nation’s overseas bonds gained after her remarks, with notes due 2035 climbing to around 25.3 cents on the dollar as investors search for signals on who Bullrich’s supporters will back in the Nov. 19 runoff. The parallel exchange rate, known as the blue-chip swap, pared gains after strengthening as much as 5.5% to around 870 pesos per dollar.

Bullrich’s tacit support — negotiated at a dinner in Buenos Aires in which former President Mauricio Macri also participated, according to newspaper La Nacion — makes Milei more competitive against Massa. The libertarian economist, who is promising to dollarize the economy and shut down Argentina’s central bank, stagnated after a stunning primary performance that made him the frontrunner ahead of Sunday’s vote.

At the same time, Bullrich’s move puts her coalition at severe risk of breakup given the animosity against Milei from more moderate members of the alliance that governed Argentina between 2015 and 2019 under Macri. After repeated questions from journalists on the alliance’s future, Bullrich said her support was an “individual” decision and other party representatives are free to chose other political options.

The UCR political party, a more moderate faction of the coalition, released a statement later Wednesday, noting it won’t support Milei or Massa in the runoff vote, contrasting with Bullrich’s comments. Those differing stances may set the stage for the business-friendly coalition to break apart.

Another key candidate in the mix is Juan Schiaretti, the governor of Cordoba, Argentina’s second most populous province. He received nearly 7% of the vote — over 900,000 ballots — and it’s not clear who he’ll back, if anyone. Schiaretti was seen as a centrist pro-business candidate closer to Massa than Milei, but his native Cordoba voted overwhelmingly against the Peronist candidate, who only received 13% support there.

Leftist candidate Myriam Bregman won 3% of ballots cast on Sunday. That support will likely all go to Massa.

--With assistance from Scott Squires.

(Adds comments from the UCR political party statement in eighth paragraph)

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