Argentina's Economy Minister Sergio Massa and his presidential rival, the outsider libertarian Javier Milei, on Thursday wrapped up their campaigns ahead of a nail-biter election on Sunday.
Milei, a 53-year-old economist who wants to ditch the peso for the US dollar and shut the Central Bank to halt triple-digit inflation, took his campaign to the central city of Córdoba, a bastion of anti-Kirchnerite sentiment where thousands of supporters waved flags and cheered him on as he sang and railed against the government.
"We are facing the most important election in the last 40 years," said the far-right politician, referring to the period since Argentina returned to democracy after 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Referring to opponents who say his proposals are a "leap into the void," he said: "What leap into the void are you talking about, if we are already on our way to hell itself?"
He said the country was being called to choose between the "populism" of the long-dominant Peronist coalition, "or if we want to re-embrace the ideas of freedom."
Milei, who surged from obscurity to land in the presidential race amid a dire economic crisis, is slightly leading the polls ahead of Sunday's vote, but analysts say it could go either way.
"Those of us who are here vote with hope, not with anger. Milei is a change that we Argentines need. If Massa wins, our path is totally uncertain," said César Andrada, 70.
Andrada had initially voted for the conservative Patricia Bullrich, who came third in the first round in October and has backed Milei in the run-off.
Ramiro Marra, the La Libertad Avanza mayoral candidate in Buenos Aires City last month, told AFP that the rally would close a "historic campaign" and summoned all Argentines to vote "for democracy to continue in time."
Last week was marked by fraud accusations in advance from the Milei campaign, unprecedented allegations in 40 years of Argentine democracy.
Opinion polls pointed to a scenario of a technical tie. The veda electoral curfew, which prohibits any campaign rally, kicks off on Friday.
Massa, who has overseen inflation which has hit 143 percent over the past 12 months, chose more intimate gatherings for his final campaign stretch, with a group of business leaders and then a visit to a high school.
A lawyer by training, the 51-year-old told the business leaders "a country and a government which defend industry" before visiting the Carlos Pellegrini school in Buenos Aires, where he was cheered by the students.
"I come to tell you that we are going to defend and improve public, inclusive and free education," Massa said.
Massa has worked hard to present himself as the polar opposite of his fiery competitor. And voters have other reasons to back him.
"I'm going to vote for Massa because I'm against Milei, because I defend human rights, health and education," Carolina Cova, 27, told AFP.
"This time we have to vote for democracy," she said.
Also on Thursday, a group of women staged the weekly march around the capital's Plaza de Mayo in a search for justice for children who went missing under the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
The Madres de Plaza de Mayo human rights group were joined by nearly 1,000 protesters against Milei's "denialism," after he alarmed many by questioning the death toll of 30,000 under the dictatorship, a number widely agreed by human rights groups.
"It seems to us that in the face of the discourse of denialism we must vindicate the slogan of Memory, Truth and Justice," said Olivia Col, 21 a medical student who attended with two friends.