By Nicolás Misculin
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner intends to run for the office again this year, two sources close to left-leaning politician told Reuters, the strongest indication yet that the populist leader will look to mount a challenge to incumbent Mauricio Macri.
Fernández, who has yet to formally announce herself as a candidate in the elections in October, would make boosting consumer purchasing power a focus, the sources said, a counter to Macri's austerity push that has dented his popularity.
The election run, if confirmed, would make Fernández the first and most high-profile challenger to Macri, who is expected to run for a second term but whose leadership has faced heavy criticism after rampant inflation last year and a falling economy hit voters hard.
A Macri versus Fernández battle would likely dominate the election process in what will be a major crossroads for Argentina's economic and political future: a choice between Macri's IMF-backed economic reforms or a return to Peronism.
Fernandez - who led the country from 2007 through 2015 and is now a senator - is Macri's arch political rival and is among his main critics from within the country's Peronist movement.
A spokesman for Fernandez's party did not directly confirm that she would be a candidate when asked by Reuters, but said any government from her faction would look to bolster the purchasing power of workers to support the domestic market.
"She will be (a candidate) because she does not have any other option," said one source, a strategy advisor to Fernandez, asking not to be named because the run was not yet public.
A second source close to the former president also said she would run and that she was the best candidate to lead the country.
Fernandez was indicted last year on charges that her administration accepted bribes from construction companies in exchange for public works contracts.
Fernandez has denied the charges and said she never received any illicit money. As a senator, she has immunity from arrest, but not from prosecution.
(Reporting by Nicolás Misculin in Buenos Aires; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Frances Kerry)