By Nicolás Misculin
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will hold primary elections on Sunday, a nationwide ballot that will act as a giant voter poll ahead of general elections in October, with many people angry or apathetic over triple-digit inflation and rising poverty.
The primary - an open and mandatory vote - will decide a tight race to lead the conservative opposition bloc and confirm the ruling Peronist coalition's candidate, Economy Minister Sergio Massa. It will also show if outsider libertarian Javier Milei, flying high in polls, has truly clicked with voters.
On the streets of the capital city of Buenos Aires, many voters were still undecided, a reflection of polls showing a high level of uncertainty. Many people are spurning the traditional Peronist and conservative coalitions, while moderates fear the rise of Milei.
"It's a matter of choosing which option you dislike the least," Pablo Vairo, 42, a lawyer in the capital, told Reuters.
Primaries four years ago threw up a shock result - a landslide opposition victory - which tanked markets and sparked an economic crisis. That's far less likely this time with a split vote making it harder to have a clear-cut result.
"It's highly likely we will have a runoff and very little chance one of the forces will win in the (October) first round," said Facundo Nejamkis from pollster Opina Argentina, adding the two main blocs both had 28-35% of the vote with Milei near 20%.
Presidential candidates would need 45% to win outright in the Oct. 22 general election, or 40% with a 10-point lead over second place. If no party achieves that there would be a second round head-to-head in November, the most likely outcome.
The conservative Together for Change bloc - split between moderate Buenos Aires city mayor Horacio Larreta and ex-security minister Patricia Bullrich - overall leads the polls, with the ruling Peronist Union por la Patria grouping close behind.
Pollsters, however, said voter apathy could mean big shifts late in the race, with many people still undecided. The primary election will give the clearest indication yet of what the October general election result is likely to be.
"I still don't know who I'm going to vote for and I think we're all in the same position. No-one votes for ideas or political affinity anymore, it's all a punishment vote," said Cristian Guardo, 45, a supervisor at a food company.
Maximiliano Herrera, a 38-year-old bakery worker in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, said he would likely choose a fringe party as a protest vote.
"I'm going to vote because I don't want to pay the fine, but I still don't know who. For me they are all the same, none is sincere," he said.
Despite voting being obligatory by law, voter turnout is also expected to be down and could affect the result. Voting in the primaries will begin at 8 a.m. local time on Sunday (1100 GMT) and the first results of the count are expected around 9 p.m. (0000 GMT).
"There is a lot of discontent and it seems to me that many people are going to stay away, not even put a blank vote. I think there will be lot of people just not showing up," said 37-year-old teacher Karina, only giving her first name.
(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Additional by Juan Bustamante and Candelaria Grimberg; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Diane Craft)