Argentines are heading the polls in midterm legislative elections that could see the party of centre-left President Alberto Fernandez lose its Senate majority.
Nearly half the lower-house Chamber of Deputies seats are up for grabs in Sunday’s elections, as well as a third of the Senate seats in a vote that is mandatory for 34.3 million people.
Polls close at 6pm (21:00 GMT) on Sunday, with the first results expected about three hours later.
Fernandez’s Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front) party is already a minority in the lower house and analysts believe it risks losing its Senate majority.
“We ask the Argentines to make their will known so we can build the country that they want,” Fernandez told reporters after casting his vote, accompanied by First Lady Fabiola Yanez.
“Today is a congressional election, nothing more.”
In September, Frente de Todos suffered a bruising defeat in primaries, picking up just 33 percent of the vote compared with 37 percent for Fernandez’s predecessor Mauricio Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) opposition group.
“If the results of the PASO (September’s primary) are repeated, the ruling party could lose its majority in the Senate,” political analyst Rosendo Fraga of the New Majority think-tank told the AFP news agency.
Fernandez’s government has been hard-hit by growing public discontent.
The country has been in recession since 2018, with GDP dropping 9.9 percent last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Argentina has one of the world’s highest inflation rates, at 40 percent so far this year, and a poverty rate of 42 percent for a population of 45 million.
The primaries setback unleashed a political crisis pitting Fernandez against his deputy president and coalition partner Cristina Kirchner, who pressured her boss into a cabinet reshuffle in the hopes it would help appease an increasingly-frustrated electorate.
If Frente de Todos loses its Senate majority, the opposition “will most probably use” its legislative blocking power, analyst Gabriel Puricelli of the University of Buenos Aires told AFP.
The party would then be forced to negotiate and make concessions if it wants to pass laws or make key appointments, including to the judiciary.
The government has been in damage-limitation mode since the primaries, announcing last month a deal with retailers to freeze prices on more than 1,200 basic goods after protesters took to the streets demonstrating against food insecurity, unemployment, and a lack of resources. It also increased the minimum wage in September.
The government has rallied its supporters following months of pandemic lockdowns that kept them hidden away.
Pro-government trade unions and social organisations said they will march in support of Fernandez on Wednesday regardless of Sunday’s results.
Many eyes will be on Buenos Aires province, a traditional bastion of Peronists including Fernandez’s party, but where Macri’s Juntos made great strides in September.
There is a potential spoiler in the field in the form of the provocative Javier Milei – an ultra-liberal anti-establishment economist who is pushing for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies for the city of Buenos Aires.
Milei has the centre-right opposition and the centre-left government, both of whom he has criticised, worried.
His rise has drawn comparisons to successful populists like Donald Trump in the United States or Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Milei has managed to attract support from all social classes, although some analysts point out most tend to be men aged 18-40.
He has caught Macri’s attention, though.
“The ideas Milei has been espousing, I have always expressed them,” said the former president recently.