BUENOS AIRES • Argentines voted yesterday in a presidential run-off that could end 12 years of leftist government and see the pro-business opposition seize the helm of Latin America's third-biggest economy.
Polls show that the mayor of Buenos Aires, former Boca Juniors football executive Mauricio Macri, 56, could beat his left-wing rival, Mr Daniel Scioli, 58, a former power boating champion.
Mr Macri has cast himself as a force for change as many voters are fed up after 12 years of rule by outgoing President Cristina Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband, Mr Nestor Kirchner. "We deserve to live better than this," Mr Macri said at his closing campaign rally.
Mr Scioli said Mr Macri's proposed economic reforms threatened Argentines' welfare payments, salaries and industry. "Macri means the devaluation that destroys salaries. He is the demon of savage capitalism," Mr Scioli charged.
The latest opinion poll by consultancy Management and Fit showed Mr Macri with 55.3 per cent support and Mr Scioli with 44.7 per cent. If Mr Macri breaks the grip of Peronism, the broad populist movement that has dominated Argentine politics for decades, he could become Argentina's most economically liberal leader since the 1990s.
Mr Macri surprised pollsters in the first-round vote by finishing just three points behind his rival, with 34.15 per cent of the votes to Mr Scioli's 37.8 per cent. The narrow result forced a run-off vote.
The election has been unlike any other in Argentina's history, with the first national run-off and the first televised candidate debate. If Mr Macri wins, he will be the first leader to be fairly elected who is neither a Peronist nor from the radical liberal movement.
His rise has raised hopes among financiers, but fears among domestic businesses and poorer Argentines who have benefited from the social and trade policies of the combative outgoing president.