Voting in a knife-edge run-off election to choose a new president was under way in Argentina on Sunday.
In the midst of a severe economic crisis, the vote pits Economy Minister Sergio Massa from the ruling Peronist party against the libertarian populist Javier Milei.
In the latest surveys, the two were almost tied.
“We are deciding which country we will live in for the next few years,” said Massa after casting his vote.
While Massa is in favour of a continuation of government policy with strong state intervention in the economy, the self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” Milei promises a radical shift. He wants to introduce the US dollar as legal tender, abolish the central bank and many ministries and radically cut social spending.
“No one so extremist on economic issues has been elected president of a South American country,” said economist Mark Weisbrot from the US research institute Centre for Economic and Policy Research.
“His extremist views and values go far beyond macroeconomic policy — he hardly acknowledges any legitimate role for government in some of the most important policies that most people have come to see as necessary for a democratic, humane, and stable society,” Weisbrot said.
The radical programme planned by Milei is particularly popular with young people. Many have only known a life in constant crisis mode, are disappointed with the political establishment and want a fresh start.
Massa, on the other hand, is likely to continue the current policy of massive state intervention in the economy and extensive social programmes.
In the lead-up to the election the economy minister ordered mass recruitment in the public sector, authorized higher income tax allowances and granted one-off payments to employees and pensioners.
According to media reports, Massa has pumped the equivalent of several billion dollars into the economy in recent months, around 1.5% of gross domestic product. The moderate Peronist has recently fuelled fears of social austerity should his rival Milei win the election.
South America’s second-largest economy is in a deep economic crisis. The inflation rate is over 140% and around 40% of people in the once rich country live below the poverty line. Argentina suffers from a bloated state apparatus, low industrial productivity and a large shadow economy that deprives the state of many tax revenues.