Argentina votes in key primaries ahead of October election

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Recession-hit Argentina went to the polls on Sunday, August 11, for party primaries ahead of October's general election, in a vote that should offer a firm indication about how the presidential race could swing.

Given that all of the South American country's major parties have already chosen their presidential candidates, the primaries effectively serve as a nationwide pre-election opinion poll.

Center-right, pro-business President Mauricio Macri is looking to earn a second mandate, while center-left nominee Alberto Fernandez is aiming to restore a Peronist government to power.

Fernandez topped the most recent polls and has been boosted by his choice of running mate -- former president Cristina Kirchner.

Polling stations closed at 6:00 pm (2100 GMT), with the first results expected around three hours later, once 10 percent of ballots in the most populous provinces have been counted.

Around three-quarters of Argentina's 34 million eligible voters went to the urns, Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio said.

All eyes are on the point spread in terms of support for Macri and Fernandez.

"It would be very difficult to claw back a difference of five points due to polarization: there's no scope to claim votes," said political analyst Raul Aragon.

The first round of the presidential election will be held on October 27, with a run-off -- if needed -- set for November 24.

"I'm very calm and relaxed, waiting for Argentines to decide. We Peronists are all united. We're very happy," said Fernandez, 60, who voted in his home district in Buenos Aires.

He was a surprise nominee for the Peronist movement as Kirchner -- already president from 2007-15 -- was expected to run again.

However, she is embroiled in a dozen corruption investigations, the first of which has already gone to trial, and is a controversial figure.

Inflation and poverty

Argentina is currently in a recession and posted 22% inflation for the first half of the year – one of the highest rates in the world.

Poverty now affects 32% of the population.

Backed by the International Monetary Fund, and a $56 billion bailout loan, Macri has initiated an austerity plan that is deeply unpopular.

The markets, though, have little faith in Fernandez, who is widely seen as dependent on Kirchner.

The Buenos Aires stock exchange actually shot up eight percent on Friday amongst expectation that Macri would do well in Sunday's vote.

"This election will define the next 30 years in Argentina. The markets obviously hope Argentines will continue on the same path," said Macri, as he voted in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo.

A third option on the ballot is centrist former finance minister Roberto Lavagna, although he's expected to poll well below the two frontrunners.

"I'm going to vote for Fernandez and Kirchner because they're going to create jobs and secure public education. Macri represents unemployment and ignorance," said Josefina Sanchez, a 26-year-old who works for a metallurgy company.

Adriana Lucheti, 60, who works in sanitation, said she had voted for Macri "so we can keep changing the 12 years of destruction from the previous governments that stole everything" -- a clear allusion to the corruption allegations against Kirchner and her late husband Nestor, who preceded her as president.  –