The party founded by dictator Juan Domingo Peron is poised to return to power for only the second time in three decades on Sunday when Argentines elect a new president.
Polls show that voters, upset with a collapsing economy, are likely to favor Peronist Party candidate Carlos Menem over Eduardo Angeloz of the governing Radical Civic Union.In 1987, the Peronists captured a majority of the congressional and gubernatorial races.
Voters on Sunday also will elect a vice president, half of the Chamber of Deputies, one national senator, legislatures in 14 of the nation's 22 provinces and several thousand municipal officials.
Voting is obligatory for Argentines between the ages of 18 and 70. About 20 million of the country's 31 million people are eligible. The new president will be inaugurated Dec. 10.
Menem has led public opinion polls since he was nominated by the Peronists in July. But Angeloz has often reminded voters that President Raul Alfonsin also had been expected to lose when he ran in 1983.
Alfonsin is prohibited by the constitution from seeking a second six-year term.
Menem, 58, and Angeloz, 57, both are provincial governors and lawyers. Each is offering a different vision of how Argentina might overcome a chronic budget deficit, triple-digit inflation, rising unemployment and a $59 billion foreign debt.
Angeloz, whose main support comes from the middle class, pledged to sell inefficient state industries, reduce the role of the state in the economy, maintain a free exchange rate, spur exports and revamp organized labor.
"The hour of truth has arrived," the stocky, two-time governor of Cordoba Province said in his final campaign ads. "There are many ways of voting for the past. There is only one way of voting for the future."
Menem, whose main support comes from the working poor, recognized the need to balance the national budget but voiced lukewarm support for the privatization of state industries and said he intended to significantly increase wages.
The biggest of the approximately 300 companies controlled by the government were nationalized by Peron when he was in power between 1946 and 1955, the year he was ousted by a military coup. Currently, about 2 million Argentines of a work force of about 11 million are employed by the state.
To restart the economy, Menem pledged to implement a "productive revolution," a concept he never fully explained.
"I am not promising miracles overnight . . . I'm not a superman," Menem told 100,000 cheering supporters at his closing campaign rally on Thursday. "The only thing I can promise is work, work and more work."
Menem needs more than 50 percent of the electoral college votes to win outright. Angeloz must keep Menem below that figure in order to forge a coalition of other parties and form a majority.
A side issue in the campaign this year is the military, which is clamoring for a bigger budget, more political power and an end to the trials of officers accused of anti-leftist human rights violations during the 1976-1983 military dictatorships.
Angeloz and Menem each has ruled out a pardon for officers convicted of rights abuses.