BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentine economy minister Sergio Massa will be the "unity" candidate for the ruling Peronist bloc in October presidential elections, the Union por la Patria alliance said in a tweet late on Friday, a major political twist after months of talks.
The announcement from the main Peronist coalition grouping comes just a day after Interior Minister Eduardo 'Wado' de Pedro, part of a leftist bloc, had publicly announced his presidential bid, as well as moderate Daniel Scioli.
"Our movement has decided to form a unity list to represent us in the next elections," the Peronist group said. "Our candidate for president will be Sergio Massa with the vice presidential candidate Agustin Rossi."
Massa faces a major challenge to turn around the Peronists' fortunes, with their popularity having sunk with the country battling 100%-plus inflation and with some four-in-ten people in poverty as rising prices have hit spending power.
Seen as a savvy political operator, Massa does, however, offer a more centrist and pragmatic candidacy, bridging between the leftist wing around powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and a more moderate Peronist bloc.
"With this, the ruling party has a chance to show a more moderate face to an independent electorate," said Argentine political consultant Carlos Fara, adding it showed pragmatism from Fernandez de Kirchner, a more natural ally of de Pedro.
"It's a surprise turnaround play on the part of Cristina because she is accepting a ticket where there is no one from her inner circle."
Union por la Patria thanked de Pedro, who just a day earlier launched his bid with a heartfelt video, for stepping aside and putting the "collective before the individual".
Candidates have until Saturday night to register to run. In theory as a unity candidate, Massa would run alone on behalf of the Peronist bloc. Massa, de Pedro and Scioli made no immediate comment on the announcement, though de Pedro's VP runner Juan Manzur acknowledged the bloc's decision in a tweet.
Massa became economy minister last July, aiming to rein in inflation and steady the wobbly peso currency, though prices have soared even higher since, with critics blaming him for the economic malaise.
"The arsonist applies to be the firefighter," conservative presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich wrote on Twitter.
The primary candidates for the main opposition conservative bloc Juntos por el Cambio include Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Larreta and ex-security minister Bullrich. Also riding high is far-right libertarian economist Javier Milei.
(Reporting by Carolina Pulice, Eliana Raszewski and Anna-Cat Brigida; Editing by Isabel Woodford and Jacqueline Wong)