Argentina's Economy Minister Sergio Massa and anti-establishment outsider Javier Milei will face off in a run-off presidential election, according to partial poll results released Sunday.
With 76 percent of votes counted, Massa surprised by pulling ahead with 35.9 percent of votes, while Milei secured 30.51 percent.
The two will compete in a November 19 run-off election, with the winner to take office December 10.
Libertarian economist Milei had been polling as the frontrunner ahead of Massa, who has overseen inflation of almost 140 percent and poverty that has reached 40 percent.
Celebrations broke out in the election bunker of Massa, the candidate for the centre-left Peronist ruling coalition which has dominated Argentine politics for decades.
"Massa carried out a very good campaign. He connected with the people," said Jonatan Pagano, a 36-year-old construction worker.
Latin America's third-biggest economy is creaking under decades of recurrent fiscal crises marked by debt, financial mismanagement, and inflation.
Milei, who turned 53 Sunday, has vowed to dollarise the economy, slash spending, and "dynamite" the Central Bank.
In response, Massa's campaign took pains to highlight what cutting hefty electricity and public transport subsidies would mean for people's pockets.
To woo voters, Massa went on a pre-election spending spree, slashing income tax for much of the population in a move analysts said would only make the country's fragile financial situation worse.
'The lesser evil'
Many casting their ballots were jittery over the impact of the vote on the volatile peso and inflation, and said they were simply choosing the least worst option.
"There is so much uncertainty ... and fear, out of these candidates, there are none who represent me. There is no one who can change what we need here in Argentina," said graphic designer María Olguin, 40, who did not want to reveal her vote.
"I'll choose the lesser evil," said trader Raùl Narvaez, 64.
With 40 percent of the population living in poverty and a middle class brought to its knees, many voters were keen to see the back of the traditional parties they view as the architects of their misery.
"Obviously I voted for Milei," said Esteban Montenegro, 24, who works in sales in the capital Buenos Aires.
"But it is not that I have all the confidence in the world... but he is the only one giving solid, transparent proposals."
Milei, a libertarian economist, blindsided pollsters when he surged to the front of the election race, winning an August primary with 30 percent of votes.
Analysts say his surge follows the regional trend towards anti-establishment parties, and he is often compared to former US president Donald Trump or Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro's son Eduardo was present in his election bunker Sunday to show his support.
"I believe that Milei will win, whether it's in the first or second round doesn't matter," he said.
Milei, a self-described "anarcho-capitalist" with disheveled hair and a rock-star persona has shown up at rallies with a powered-up chainsaw, vowing to slash public spending by 15 percent.
He is against abortion and sex education, wants to ditch about ten government ministries, and does not believe humans are responsible for climate change.
Conservative tough-talking former security minister Patricia Bullrich came in third place with 23.61 percent.
by Fran Blandy, AFP