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article imageLeftist Fernandez leads in Argentine poll

By Denis BARNETT (AFP)     Oct 25, 2019 in Politics

Argentina's leftist presidential frontrunner Alberto Fernandez surged into a stong lead over business-friendly incumbent Maurico Macri in Sunday´s election, exit polls said, though it was too early to know if he had won an outright first round victory.

Exit polls put the 60-year-old lawyer, whose running mate is ex-president Cristina Kirchner, in the lead shortly after polling closed at 6:00 pm.

Thousands of ecstatic Fernandez supporters cheered and danced outside his Frente de Todos party headquarters in Buenos Aires.

"It´s a great day for Argentina," a smiling Fernandez told reporters.

Macri, 60, whose popularity has fallen sharply in the last year as Argentina battled recession and market turmoil, said competing "visions of the future are at stake," in the vote.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri arrives at a polling station in Buenos Aires with his wife Julian...
Argentine President Mauricio Macri arrives at a polling station in Buenos Aires with his wife Juliana Awada
Juan MABROMATA, AFP

After casting his vote in the early afternoon in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, he admitted that he was "anxiously waiting" for 9:00 pm (midnight GMT) to roll around, when the first results are expected.

- High turnout -

The interior ministry said turnout in Sunday's general election was over 80 percent after a campaign dominated by the crippling economic crisis affecting Latin America's second-biggest economy.

Macri had called for a massive turnout, which analysts see as his main hope of closing the gap on Fernandez and forcing a second round.

Fernandez vowed to end sharp divisions between his Peronist movement and supporters of the business-friendly incumbent.

"The days of 'Us' and 'Them' are over," the mustachioed leftist leader said after voting in the swanky Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires. "We are in an enormous crisis. Everyone has to take responsibility for what's ahead."

Electoral authority staff hang the electoral roll at a polling station in Buenos Aires
Electoral authority staff hang the electoral roll at a polling station in Buenos Aires
ALEJANDRO PAGNI, AFP

The election comes amid high tensions in the region, with massive protests in neighboring Chile and Bolivia, as well as recent unrest over inequality in Ecuador.

Voter Maria Marta Rosauer, 54, said she would give Macri "another vote of confidence."

"I voted with the conviction and the certainty that he did things well and that he could have done better, but he needed time," she said.

"Nobody can put a country on its feet in four years, after how he found it. We opened our doors to the world after many years of being almost forgotten," she said, referring to the years when Argentina was a market pariah following a 2001 default.

There are "two models of government at stake here. Alberto and Cristina represent greater equity," said another voter, Liliana, a 64-year-old architect in the capital. "I'm excited to see the end of a country that only benefits a small group."

The populist Kirchner, 66, who is facing trial in one of several graft cases stemming from her time in office, voted in the southern city of Rio Gallegos before flying to Buenos Aires to join celebrations.

Victory would cap a stunning comeback for the ex-president, a polarizing figure who succeeded her husband Nestor Kirchner as president in 2007 and remained in power until 2015.

- Stashing the cash -

A man in a wheelchair  pictured at a polling station in Buenos Aires during Argentina's general...
A man in a wheelchair pictured at a polling station in Buenos Aires during Argentina's general election
ALEJANDRO PAGNI, AFP

The likely return to power of protectionist Peronists comes amid a lengthy recession and a debt crunch, raising market fears of a possible default on a $57 billion IMF loan.

The peso fell 5.86 percent in the week before the elections, and the week ended with the dollar at 65 pesos.

"The markets will be negative" in their reaction to a Fernandez triumph on Monday, said Nicolas Saldias, a senior researcher at the Wilson Center.

"It won´t be as brutal as in August (after the primary result), but people are taking their money out of the country, out of the banks."

"A lot depends on whether he shows his capacity to compromise.

"Macri is the president but Fernandez has the power. There has to be some signal that they are working together."

Fernandez has insisted his government would not default but rather seek to renegotiate the terms of the loan, and sought to reassure voters that their bank deposits would be safe under his administration.

Ex-president Cristina Kirchner posing for a selfie with a supporter at a polling station in Rio Gall...
Ex-president Cristina Kirchner posing for a selfie with a supporter at a polling station in Rio Gallegos in Argentina´s Santa Cruz province
STR, TELAM/AFP

Since Fernandez's crushing victory in August primaries, which made him the favorite for the presidency, Argentine savers have withdrawn around $12 billion from their accounts.

In primaries held in August, Fernandez garnered 49.5 percent of the vote compared to only 33 percent for Macri, whose nearly four years in power have been marked by economic woes.

Macri blamed Argentina's economic problems on previous Peronist governments under Kirchner (2007-15) and her late husband Nestor Kirchner (2003-07).

- Safe hands -

The poverty rate has risen to more than 35 percent, inflation for the year to September was at almost 38 percent, while the peso has depreciated 70 percent since January 2018.

Under Argentine law, a candidate can win the presidency in the first round if they reach 45 percent of the vote, and a 10 point margin over their nearest rival.

Otherwise, a second round will be held on November 24.

Voters will also elect half of the Chamber of Deputies, a third of the Senate, the governor of Buenos Aires province and the capital's mayor.

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