Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Argentina presidential race could end 12 years of liberal government

Presidential runoff on Sunday pits a pro-business candidate against a leftist

Noisy rallies Thursday marked the end of weeks of campaigning in Argentina's first-ever presidential runoff, which could see a pro-business right-winger end 12 years of leftist government.

Right-wing candidate Mauricio Macri, an economic liberal who polls show could win Sunday's vote, joined in an indigenous earth ceremony in the Andes before appearing in front of supporters.

His rival Daniel Scioli, an ally of combative outgoing President Cristina Kirchner, rallied followers in his stronghold in Buenos Aires province.

Macri, a rich former soccer executive, tried to shake off his elitist image by ending his campaign in a poor northern province, near a monument to independence heroes.

"Let's change," he yelled, using the slogan which is also the name of his opposition coalition.

"We deserve to live better. People can live in an Argentina with zero poverty, aspiring to own their own homes, being proud of public education and facing up to drug-trafficking," Macri said.

At Scioli's last campaign events, first in the seaside town of Mar del Plata and later in the working class suburb of La Matanza, the candidate branded Macri a "stuck-up" elitist, promising that only he would defend Argentine jobs.

"It is clear that Macri represents the market," Scioli said. "I defend national industry."

In last month's first-round vote Macri surprised pollsters by finishing just three percentage points behind Scioli, a result so close that it forced a runoff.

The momentum swung in Macri's favor and recent polls have shown he could win Sunday's vote. The tone of the campaigns sharpened in recent weeks with allegations of dirty tricks.

If Macri wins he would become the first elected Argentine leader who is neither a "Peronist" — a group which has dominated Argentine politics for a century — nor from the radical liberal movement.

Kirchner and her predecessor, her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who came to power in 2003, oversaw a strong economic recovery after a financial crisis in Argentina.

But growth has slowed in recent years and analysts say Macri has harnessed support from Argentines who are fed up with Kirchner's abrasive approach, government controls and trade protectionism.

Agence France-Presse 

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