(UTV|COLOMBO) – Polls have closed in Argentina’s presidential election, which pitted conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri against centre-left challenger Alberto Fernández.
The vote was held amid a deep economic crisis that has left a third of the population in poverty.
Early forecasts by local media suggested a win for Mr Fernández.
Official results are not expected to be released until about 21:00 local time (00:00 GMT).
Mr Macri had trailed behind his challenger in pre-election polls and was trounced by the opposition in primary elections in August.
Ahead of the official results, Mr Fernández’s Frente de Todos party said it was confident of victory.
What are the key issues?
The election has been dominated by concerns over the economy. With nearly one in three people now living in poverty, voters have backed the candidate they think is best-placed to lead the country out of the crisis.
Mr Macri promised to achieve “zero poverty”, but things have actually worsened during his four-year rule. Little is known of Mr Fernández’s policies, but he says he will play safe with finances.
While casting their votes on Sunday, some said they believed Mr Fernández would be able to save the economy, while others said it was broken when Mr Macri came to power, and he needed more time to sort things out.
Opponents of Mr Fernández have expressed concerns that his running-mate, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, may end up calling the shots if he wins the election.
Ms Fernández de Kirchner is fondly remembered by her supporters as a modern-day Eva Perón, who championed the poor with welfare programmes. But she is a divisive figure, also accused of being corrupt and economically irresponsible.
Who are the candidates?
Six candidates have been fighting for the presidency, but the attention has centred on two men.
Mauricio Macri, right-wing businessman
President Macri defied expectations by winning the 2015 presidential election run-off, becoming the country’s first unambiguously conservative president to win a free and fair election since 1916.
Born into a wealthy business family, Mr Macri worked in banking before going into politics – a step he partly attributes to his experience being kidnapped and held ransom by rogue police officers in 1991.
He entered Buenos Aires city politics in 2003, where his profile was helped by his presidency of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most successful football clubs. He was elected mayor four years later and emerged as leader of the opposition to centre-left presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
As president, he promised to end corruption, lift the capital controls of his predecessor and begin major infrastructure projects. But his impressive victory in mid-term elections in 2017 came on the back of a borrowing spree.
He attempted to push through economic reforms as debts mounted. Now the crisis has wiped out much of his support.
Alberto Fernández, centre-left ex-campaign strategist
For a career politician with little charisma, Mr Fernández has caused quite a stir since he first appeared in the limelight of Argentine politics some six months ago.
The former campaign strategist began his bid for the presidency in May – something of a surprise as ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had been widely tipped to be the centre-left opposition coalition’s candidate for the top office.
But Mr Fernández really came into his own in August when he defeated Mr Macri by nearly 15 percentage points in primary elections, a compulsory vote for all electors which is seen is a dry-run for the presidency. This victory, defying all predictions, sets him up as clear favourite.
How does the election work?
Voting is compulsory for those aged between 18 and 70. There are some 33.8 million eligible voters, who will also elect 130 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 24 Senate members, as well as some governors and the Mayor of Buenos Aires.
A presidential candidate needs at least 45% of the vote, or 40% and a 10-point lead over the second-place contestant, to win in the first round.
If no-one achieves that, a run-off election will be held on 24 November between the first and second placed candidates. (BBC)
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