BUENOS AIRES, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Argentines headed to the polls on Sunday in a delicately poised presidential runoff, with two starkly different visions for the country’s future on offer and an electorate simmering with anger at triple-digit inflation and rising poverty.
The election sees Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa, at the helm for the country’s worst economic crisis in two decades, go head-to-head with radical libertarian outsider Javier Milei, the slight favorite in pre-vote polls.
Milei is pledging economic shock therapy, from shutting the central bank to ditching the peso and slashing spending, potentially painful reforms that have resonated with voters angry at the economic malaise, but which have sparked fears of austerity in others.
With many Argentines unconvinced by either candidate, some have characterized the vote as a choice of the “lesser evil”: fear of Milei’s painful economic medicine or anger at Massa over the economic crisis. Many Argentines say they won’t vote at all.
“None of the candidates gives me certainty about the future,” said Josefina Valente, a 63-year-old retiree as she voted in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning.
“I come to vote out of obligation so that once and for all we have a change in the country.”
The story of the race has been the shock rise of 53-year-old economist and former TV pundit Milei, driven by widespread disenchantment with traditional political parties on both the left and right.
Julio Burdman, director of the consultancy Observatorio Electoral, said the political landscape will change forever regardless of the result.
“The election marks a profound rupture in the system of political representation in Argentina,” he said. “I think all the political forces as we know them will be transformed.”
Milei has a slight edge in opinion polls, but most show a tight and uncertain race. Massa, 51, an experienced political wheeler-dealer, has been clawing back votes with tax cuts and campaigns highlighting Milei’s radical plans to slash state spending.
“Milei’s policies scare me and that’s why I am voting for Massa, not out of conviction. As they saying goes, better the evil you know,” teacher Susana Martínez, 42, said on Sunday.
Milei, who at rallies used to carry a chainsaw in a symbol of his planned cuts, favors privatizing state firms and making changes to health and education. He has in recent weeks shelved the chainsaw as he has sought to moderate his image and capture centrist voters.
His core supporters say he is the only candidate capable of dethroning the political “caste,” as Milei calls mainstream politicians, and ending years of crisis that has dogged South America’s second-largest economy.
“You cannot vote for the current government under these conditions and a blank vote will only…