Argentina holds an election Sunday to determine who will be president for the next four years. Here's a look at the contenders and what's at stake:
The country of 41 million people is about four times the size of Texas and has Latin America's third-largest economy. The people are overwhelmingly descendants of European settlers and at least nominally Roman Catholic. Its most famous citizen is Pope Francis. Political and economic turbulence have marked recent decades as Argentina has veered between leftist populists inspired by Juan Peron, free-market advocates who once linked the currency to the U.S. dollar and a brutal military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. Argentines remain traumatized by an economic crash in 2001-2002 under pro-free-market governments that wiped out many people's savings.
The election will end 12 years of Peronist government by the Kirchners: first Nestor Kirchner in 2003, and then his wife Cristina Fernandez who was elected in 2007. He died in 2010. Their populist policies have expanded welfare programs for the poor and allied Argentina with leftists such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. They achieved dramatic economic growth during much of the previous decade, but the economy has stalled in recent years, with high inflation and a slumping national currency.
Fernandez's movement backs former Vice President Daniel Scioli, a 58-year-old businessman who lost an arm as a boat racer. He's promised to continue the Kirchners' welfare-state legacy while making corrections. Leading in recent polls is Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, 56, also a businessman and former president of the Boca Juniors soccer club. Both have suffered from crime: Scioli's brother was once kidnapped by leftist guerrillas while Macri himself was once kidnapped by a gang believed to have been made up of policemen.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Scioli promises to continue the Kirchner's welfare-state policies while making corrections to get the economy back on track. Macri has campaigned on promises to make large reforms to Argentina's economy while retaining key welfare benefits. He says he'll lift controls on use of U.S. dollars and will distance the country from Venezuela's leftist leadership. Both candidates say they will try to solve a longstanding dispute with U.S. bondholders that has frozen the country out of international credit markets.