BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentines vote on Oct. 25 for a new president to replace Cristina Fernandez whose two terms have been characterized by generous welfare benefits, state intervention in the economy and a debt default.
The three leading candidates all pledge to lure investment and boost the competitiveness of domestic industries. They differ, however, on the pace and depth of reforms to unwind state controls in Latin America’s No.3 economy.
Daniel Scioli, the ruling Front for Victory’s candidate, is ahead in the presidential race but is not sure of an outright win in the first round and could be vulnerable if it goes to a runoff.
Mauricio Macri, the center-right leader of the opposition PRO party, is running second. In third is Sergio Massa, who defected from the ruling party in 2013 to form the Renewal Front, still under the broad umbrella of the Peronist movement.
Below is a description of these three candidates and summary of their policy proposals:
* Scioli, a 58-year-old former businessman and ex powerboat champion who lost an arm in a crash in 1989, is the two-time governor of Argentina’s most populous province Buenos Aires.
He is a moderate Peronist who praises Fernandez’ leftist populism model but advocates “gradual change” and pro-business solutions to stimulate the sluggish economy.
* Scioli says that settling a legal battle with U.S. hedge funds suing over unpaid debt is not a priority. He says he will negotiate “with tenacity” for a just outcome. Fernandez refused to offer the funds better terms than those handed to creditors who accepted steep writedowns after the 2002 default.
Scioli’s advisors acknowledge a deal is needed to ensure access to international financing and say Scioli would “negotiate in good faith” with holdouts.
* He defends the central bank’s management of the exchange rate and has ruled out a sharp devaluation. He favors gradual reforms toward open markets over shock therapy and rejects spending cuts.
* Scioli has pledged to bring $30 billion in investment per year to Argentina and bring inflation down to single digits within his four-year term.
* He would review quotas and export taxes on grains and soy that have outraged farmers, but has not committed to cuts.
* Macri, 56, is mayor of Buenos Aires and leader of the non-Peronist PRO opposition party. He heads the broader “Let’s Change” alliance. Before entering politics, he climbed through the ranks of his father’s holding company and was president of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most popular clubs.
He has campaigned on a platform for change and is favored by financial markets for promising to open up the economy. His opponents slam him as a neoliberal who would neglect the poor.
* Macri criticized the government’s failure to settle with the U.S. “holdout” creditors. A deal would be a priority, his advisors say, although he would haggle hard.
* He promises to begin removing capital controls on day 1 in office, with a view to allowing the peso currency to float freely and lifting restrictions on access to dollars. He would call for central bank president, Alejandro Vanoli, to resign.
* He pledges to bring inflation down to single digits within two years - faster than the other candidates.
* Macri promises to abolish quotas and taxes on wheat and corn exports, and to reduce the 35 percent export tax soybeans.
* He vows to root out corruption from public institutions but his campaign has been dented by graft allegations against a close ally political.
* Massa is a 43-year-old lawyer and career politician, who pitches himself as a middle way between Scioli’s gradual change and Macri’s shock therapy.
Massa served briefly as Fernandez’s cabinet chief before his defection dealt her a severe blow in the 2013 mid-term elections and scuppered her hopes to rewrite the constitution and stand for a third term.
* Massa has made fighting crime a pillar of his campaign, pledging to deploy the military to fight drug traffickers, create an Anti Drugs Agency and reform the penitentiary.
* Massa says he would return Argentina to global debt markets before negotiating with all holdouts, not just those suing the country, to avoid “extortion”.
* He promises to end currency controls within 100 days in office and haul inflation down to 4-5 percent by the end of a first term.
* He would gradually eliminate export curbs and reduce duties levied on the shipment of grains and soybeans.
* Massa says improving the credibility of government statistics and ensuring the autonomy of the central bank and judiciary are key for restoring investor confidence.
(This story has been refiled to add dropped letters in ‘Scioli’ in paragraph 3)
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Richard Lough and Kieran Murray