By Nicolás Misculin and Walter Bianchi
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina needs to make radical changes including trimming back big government and freeing international trade to avoid slipping into disaster, presidential candidate and libertarian economist José Luis Espert told Reuters.
The fringe runner ahead of the Oct. 27 election, who won around 2% of the vote in an August primary, said Argentina needed to replace what he saw as a broken political and economic system over the last half century.
"If Argentina doesn't detonate what it has done in the last 50 years and do something radically different, then there is no economic plan that will work. Everyone will fail, everyone," Espert said at Reuters' office in Buenos Aires.
Argentina, in and out of recession for decades, is battling an economic crisis amid steep inflation, a volatile currency and mountainous debts that threaten to tip the country into default. Poverty levels, meanwhile, stand at above 35%.
As elections near, Peronist center-left candidate Alberto Fernández is the distant front-runner ahead of conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri, whose administration has been hit by the economic woes as voters face rising hardship.
Espert believes that both Fernández and Macri represent parties that have not implemented sufficient structural reforms that the economy needs to get out of its slump.
His Awakening Front party has 13 proposals to drive "real change", including total free trade, a much reduced state spending to help cut the fiscal deficit, an education overhaul and labor reforms taking power away from powerful unions.
Espert said that even though he's likely to make little impact on the final vote this year, it has helped put him on the map and he will run again for a Congressional role in 2021 and in the next presidential election in 2023.
His prediction for the vote this month? A clear Fernandez win, with no need for a second round. "The most likely scenario is that we have a new president on Oct. 27 and that it will be Alberto Fernández," he said. "But let's see."
(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Walter Bianchi; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Grant McCool)