Polls open in Argentina mid-term elections, key for Kirchner

Voting in midterm elections began in Argentina Sunday in balloting likely to confirm the beginning of the political end of President Cristina Kirchner.

More than 30 million voters were eligible to cast ballots and elect half the lower chamber of Congress and a third of the Senate.

The president's popularity has hit record lows, polls show, and Kirchner may lose her majority in Congress.

Though the South American country is still one of the world's breadbaskets -- exporting massive amounts of soy, wheat and meat -- Kirchner's government has presided over expanding market controls, and sky-high inflation.

Kirchner, the 60-year-old standard bearer of the populist Peronist movement will be barred from running for a third term in 2015, and many see the vote as the start of the race to replace her.

Kirchner's young and relatively inexperienced former chief of staff, Sergio Massa, 41, who broke with the president and formed a splinter Peronist party, is considered the man to watch.

The president's Front for Victory faction is expected to retain control of Congress' lower house and still be Argentina's leading political force.

But polls suggest it will lose seats to both Massa's Peronist movement and to the divided right and left-wing opposition parties.

The economy is sluggish, the protectionist government sets an official exchange rate with the dollar -- fueling black market trading -- and violent crime is increasingly common.

Kirchner, Argentina's first democratically elected female president, has seen her approval rating slide to about 30 percent since she was swept back into office for a second term in 2011.

She followed her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, as Argentina's president. Nestor Kirchner was president from 2003-2007.