Centre-left challenger wins presidential polls in Argentina

Argentina's President-elect Alberto Fernandez with his running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner at their party's headquarters in Buenos Aires on Sunday. Mr Fernandez had been the heavy favourite since winning a landslide victory in the primaries i
Argentina's President-elect Alberto Fernandez with his running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner at their party's headquarters in Buenos Aires on Sunday. Mr Fernandez had been the heavy favourite since winning a landslide victory in the primaries in August.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New leader's challenges include tackling country's $136b debt

BUENOS AIRES • Argentina's Peronists are back in power, ousting conservative President Mauricio Macri in an election result that shifts Latin America's No. 3 economy firmly back towards the left after it was battered by an economic crisis.

Peronist Alberto Fernandez had 47.8 per cent of the vote, ahead of Mr Macri's 40.7 per cent, with more than 90 per cent of ballots counted on Sunday, putting the centre-left challenger over the 45 per cent threshold to avoid a run-off and win the election outright.

Mr Macri, speaking at his election party, conceded the race and congratulated Mr Fernandez. He said he had invited Mr Fernandez to the presidential palace yesterday to discuss an orderly transition, seen as essential for Argentina's shaky economy and markets.

Mr Fernandez, speaking afterwards alongside running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, said he would meet Mr Macri and collaborate with the outgoing leader "in any way we can".

"The times ahead are not easy," he told cheering supporters at his election party. "But of course we will collaborate in everything we can, because the only thing that concerns us is that Argentines stop suffering once and for all."

Raucous crowds at Mr Fernandez's election headquarters celebrated, while the mood was far more muted across the city at Mr Macri's election camp, even though his "Together For Change" coalition did much more strongly than many polls had expected.

A candidate needs 45 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10-point lead over the runner-up, to avoid a second round.

MAIN CONCERN

The times ahead are not easy. But of course we will collaborate in everything we can, because the only thing that concerns us is that Argentines stop suffering once and for all.

MR ALBERTO FERNANDEZ, on his priorities as Argentina's President-elect.

Mr Fernandez had been the heavy favourite since winning a landslide victory in the primaries in August. He extended that lead in pre-election opinion polls.

"Alberto has won it and I am super happy. We spent four very hard years," public employee Paola Fiore, 35, said at Mr Fernandez's election base. "The excitement and expectations we have are because we know that a government that thinks about the people is back."

The vote will have far-reaching implications. Argentina is one of the world's top grain exporters, and is stirring the energy world with its huge Vaca Muerta shale field. It is also on the cusp of restructuring talks with creditors over US$100 billion (S$136 billion) of debt.

"We are in an enormous crisis and as a result, we all have to be very responsible for what's coming. It will be an effort from all of us," Mr Fernandez said when he voted at a Buenos Aires polling station.

 
 
 

The economy has taken centre stage, with Argentina in the grip of recession for most of the past year. The outlook for growth has also been darkening, with annual inflation above 50 per cent, job numbers down and poverty up sharply.

Some voters said they feared a return of the Peronist left, which they blamed for leaving an already broken economy when Mr Macri came to power in 2015. Supporters of Mr Macri said he needed more time to sort things out.

Mr Macri won backers with his plans to reform Argentina's notoriously closed economy, using trade deals and a successful push to lure foreign investment into energy projects and infrastructure.

But his reform plans were badly hit last year when a currency and debt crisis forced him to strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an eventual US$57 billion to help Argentina pay its bills.

Mr Fernandez will now take on Mr Macri's mantle - as well as negotiations with creditors, including the IMF, about restructuring more than US$100 billion in sovereign debt amid fears the country could face a damaging default.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Centre-left challenger wins presidential polls in Argentina'. Print Edition | Subscribe