Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo

Opposition candidate wins Argentine election

Mauricio Macri's win ends the era of President Cristina Fernández, who with her late husband held power for 12 years

Opposition candidate Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday, marking an end to the often combative era of left-leaning President Cristina Fernández, who along with her late husband dominated the country’s political scene for 12 years and rewrote its social contract.

Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli, Fernández’s chosen successor, conceded late Sunday and said he had called Macri to congratulate him on a victory that promises to chart Argentina on a more free market, less state interventionist course.

“Today is a historic day,” said Macri, addressing thousands of cheering supporters as horns were heard blaring across Buenos Aires. “It’s the change of an era.”

With 96 percent of the vote counted, Macri had 52 percent support compared to 48 percent for Scioli.

The victory by the business-friendly Macri comes after he did better than expected in the first round on Oct. 25, forcing a runoff with Scioli, the governor of the vast Buenos Aires province.

The election that could have economic and political ramifications across South America, and Argentines on Sunday weighed issues ranging from soaring prices to the future of social welfare programs implemented by Fernández and her late husband.

Macri, who campaigned on promises to reform and jump-start Argentina’s economy, went in as the front-runner after his unexpectedly strong showing in the Oct. 25 first round that forced a runoff against Daniel Scioli, the president’s chosen successor.

Scioli, who had been expected to win by 10 or more points in last month’s six-candidate election, tried to regain momentum by frequently attacking Macri before the runoff. He said a Macri victory would subject this nation of 41 million people to the market-driven policies of the 1990s, a period of deregulation that many Argentines believe set the stage for the financial meltdown of 2001 and 2002.

“This government has helped a lot of people with the social welfare plans,” said Carlos Mercurio, a 55-year-old newsstand owner who voted for Scioli. “I’m afraid of what Macri might do.”

Macri has rejected the notion that he represents policies of the past, saying he would lead with “21st century development,” as opposed to “21st century socialism” — a term used by supporters of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.

“The dirty campaigning against Macri has been so aggressive,” said Marcela Zamora, 42, who voted for Macri after supporting one of the other four candidates in the first round. “I just want [the ruling party] gone.”

During the campaign, Macri also promised to shake things up regionally. He said he would push to expel Venezuela from the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur because of the jailing of opposition leaders under Maduro. That would be a huge change for a continent where many countries, including neighbors Chile, Brazil and Bolivia, have left-leaning democratic governments that have maintained close ties with Venezuela.

The election comes at a time when Argentina’s economy, Latin America’s third largest, has stalled. Inflation is around 30 percent, gross domestic product growth is just above zero and many private economists warn that the Fernández administration’s spending is not sustainable.

Over the course of the campaign, both candidates at times tried to straddle the center. Scioli said he would resolve a long-standing New York court fight with creditors in the U.S. whom Fernández called “vultures” and has refused to negotiate with. Macri flipped his position and voiced support for the nationalization of the YPF oil company and Aerolineas Argentina, popular actions by the Fernández administration.

“The candidates are trying to look like each other,” said Maria Victoria Murillo, a professor of political science at Columbia University and an expert on Argentine politics.

But there were also clear differences.

Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, promised to lift unpopular controls on the buying of U.S. dollars and thus eliminate a booming black market for currency exchange. Doing that would likely lead to a sharp devaluation of the Argentine peso. With low foreign reserves, the government would desperately need an immediate infusion of dollars. Those could come from many different places, but ultimately would require structural changes to a largely protectionist economy, solving the debt spat and developing warmer relations with other nations, including the United States.

Scioli, governor of the large Buenos Aires province, said he would maintain energy and transportation subsidies along with the many social works programs instituted under Fernández and Nestor Kirchner, her late husband and presidential predecessor. While such promises signaled an embrace of the status quo, Scioli also promised to make small fixes where necessary.

In the opening round, Scioli, a former boat racer who lost his right arm in competition, got 37 percent of the votes, while 34 percent went for Macri, who gained a national profile as president of the popular soccer club Boca Juniors. That close finish meant the country’s first-ever presidential runoff.

More than 10 percent of voters were undecided, according to polls in recent weeks. One such person was Maria Escribano, who voted for Socialist Workers’ Party’s Nicolas del Cano in the first round and paced around with her dog outside a polling place on Sunday.

“I’m hoping that by walking the dog, I’ll be able to decide” whom to vote for, she said.

The Associated Press

Related News


Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter



Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter