Argentina's third-place presidential candidate Bullrich endorses right-wing populist Milei in runoff

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Former Argentine presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, who placed third in Sunday’s election, endorsed right-wing populist Javier Milei on Wednesday for next month’s runoff, a move that could rupture the country's main center-right opposition coalition.

Bullrich, a former security minister, received 24% of the vote, compared to 37% for Economy Minister Sergio Massa and 30% for Milei.

“In the case of Javier Milei, we have differences, and that’s why we competed. We don’t overlook them. However, we are faced with the dilemma of change or the continuation of a mafia-style governance for Argentina and putting an end to the shame of the present. We have the obligation not to remain neutral," Bullrich told a news conference.

“The country needs a fundamental change," Bullrich added, warning against a “continuation of the worst government in history.”

Bullrich emphasized that she was speaking on behalf of her presidential team, including running mate Luis Petri, rather than their coalition, making clear that neither the center-right PRO party she leads, nor the broader United for Change coalition, officially backed the decision.

Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, competed with Bullrich for right-leaning votes in Sunday’s election. Ahead of the vote, Milei harshly criticized Bullrich but has recently moderated his speech and even raised the possibility that she could join his Cabinet if he wins the presidency.

Shortly after the news conference, Milei posted a cartoon drawing on social media that showed a lion hugging a duck. Milei’s supporters have dubbed him “the lion” while Bullrich’s backers often referred to her as “Pato” (Spanish word for duck), a common nickname for Patricia.

“We forgave each other,” Bullrich said, revealing that she had met with Milei on Tuesday night. “Today, our nation needs us to be able to forgive each other because something very important for the future is at stake.”

Since Sunday’s vote there have been tensions within the center-right United for Change, the country’s main opposition coalition, about who its members would support ahead of the Nov. 19 runoff. The election will decide who will lead South America’s second-largest economy, which suffers from rising poverty an annual inflation rate of almost 140%.

Former President Mauricio Macri, who founded the PRO party, has spoken positively of Milei in the past, characterizing the support he received as a demonstration of how Argentines want change.

However, other elements in the coalition, mainly members of the more left-leaning Radical Civic Union (UCR), made clear in recent days they would not support Milei, a chainsaw-wielding candidate who has vowed to slash state spending and ditch the local currency in favor of the dollar to deal with inflation.

Former Sen. Ernesto Sanz, a UCR leader and one of the founding members of the coalition, raised the possibility that the coalition would disband if leaders of the party publicly expressed their support for Milei.

“Coalitions, like political parties, are not designed to live forever,” Sanz said in a radio interview Wednesday.

The UCR later issued a news release where it confirmed that it would not support either candidate in the runoff and party leaders did not hide their displeasure at Bullrich's endorsement of Milei, openly raising the possibility that it could fracture the coalition.

“Patricia’s attitude is intolerable," Gerardo Morales, the governor of northern Jujuy province and head of the UCR, said in a news conference. "I don’t know what agreements she’s made with Milei."

Sen. Martín Lousteau, who is also a UCR leader, said that with their endorsement of Milei, Bullrich and Macri had decided to “abandon” the coalition.

The UCR wasn't alone in its criticism. Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, a long-time PRO member who faced off against Bullrich in a primary for the presidential candidacy, also said he would not support either candidate in the second round.

“The two options we have for the runoff election are very bad for all Argentines,” Larreta said Wednesday evening.

Milei is a libertarian economist who parlayed a successful television career into a seat in the lower house of Congress in 2021. He managed to insert his Liberty Advances party into a political system that had been dominated by one center-left and one center-right coalition trading power for around two decades.

Liberty Advances will have 37 seats in the lower house of Congress, known as the Chamber of Deputies, and eight senators, according to preliminary calculations. That compares to 105 lawmakers and 32 senators for the ruling Union for the Homeland and 94 lawmakers and 24 senators for United for Change.

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