BUENOS AIRES — The Peronista ticket of Alberto Fernández and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner defeated President Mauricio Macri in the first round of Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday, a rejection of austerity of the sort that has sparked violent protests elsewhere in Latin America.
The left-leaning Kirchner, a former two-term president who ran as vice president to Fernández, is the target of nearly a dozen corruption cases. But she is popular among the poor and voters outside Buenos Aires, and the right-leaning Macri’s fiscal reforms failed to deliver the solid growth he promised.
“I will meet President Macri tomorrow,” Fernández said late Sunday. “He is going to be the president until December 10, but I will cooperate in everything that Argentines need. …
“Argentines must know that any commitment I made is an ethical commitment. We are going to build a solidarity and egalitarian Argentina that everybody dreams.”
Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vice presidential running mate to presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, speaks with voters Sunday at a polling station in Rio Gallegos. (Reuters)
Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vice presidential running mate to presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, speaks with voters Sunday at a polling station in Rio Gallegos. (Reuters)
Kirchner said she would “ask the president who is still in office that he please take all the measures that should be taken to lighten the dramatic financial reality the country is undergoing.”Several South American countries have erupted in violent protest over the question of fiscal austerity vs. government largesse. On Sunday, this nation of 44 million put it to a vote.
The choice was stark: Stick with the austerity program of Macri or return to the social spending of Kirchner and the Peronistas.
When Macri took office in December 2015, he said his pro-market reforms would bring immediate and solid economic growth for 20 years. But at the end of his four-year term, poverty has increased by some 10 percentage points, annual inflation is over 50 percent and the public debt is equal to 100 percent of GDP, on the verge of default.
Argentina has the third-largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.
With nearly 96 percent of Argentina’s polling desks counted Sunday night, the Fernández-Kirchner ticket led Macri and running mate Miguel Ángel Pichetto, 48 percent to 40.4 percent. The leaders needed to win with at least 45 percent of the vote in the six-candidate field to avoid a head-to-head runoff election next month.
Macri conceded shortly before 10:30 p.m.
“I want to congratulate president-elect Alberto Fernández,” he told supporters. He said he had invited his successor to breakfast at Casa Rosada, the executive mansion.
“We need an organized transition,” Macri said. “The only important thing is the future of the Argentines.”
Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who sought a second term, talks to journalists after casting his vote in Buenos Aires. (Magali Druscovich/Reuters)
Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who sought a second term, talks to journalists after casting his vote in Buenos Aires. (Magali Druscovich/Reuters)
It was the result Raúl Montoya wanted. The 70-year-old computer consultant cast his ballot Sunday for Fernández and Kirchner.
“I do trust in market-friendly policies, but Macri promised the earth four years ago,” Montoya said outside his polling station in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Caballito. He said the charges against Kirchner were politically motivated. Peronism, he said, “respects the rules of the market without leaving people to their own fate.”
But Esther Rosas feared the return of Peronism — and, in particular, Kirchner.
“I hope they don’t retaliate,” the 83-year-old pensioner said after voting for Macri in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. “Cristina is arrogant and corrupt.”
Still, she said, she understood popular frustration with the incumbent: “Macri is a good engineer, but he tried to help only businessmen, forgetting the rest.”
Macri, who held top positions in several businesses before running for office, faces federal charges himself on allegations that he tried to benefit his family’s firms. Both he and Kirchner deny wrongdoing; each blames the other for the charges against them.
Kirchner, a former two-term president and first lady, is the modern face of Peronism, the populist political machine created in the 1940s by Juan and Eva “Evita” Perón that has returned to power periodically ever since, with mixed results. In Kirchner’s second term, from 2011 to 2015, a stagnant economy stopped generating jobs, inflation hit 25 percent, the fiscal deficit reached 5 percent and the country had no access to external financing.
Macri’s election in 2015 was widely seen as a milestone for Argentina and Latin America: For the first time, a conservative candidate who proposed market orthodoxy to guarantee “sustainable growth” defeated a Peronist-led coalition that had pursued protectionist policies, expanded public spending and implemented a wide net of social assistance.
Kirchner’s unusual decision to run as the vice presidential candidate to Fernández was seen by some as a recognition that although she has a loyal base, she is still deeply disliked by many voters and has a low electoral ceiling. Fernández, a chief of staff to her late husband and presidential predecessor Néstor Kirchner, left the administration a few months after Cristina Kirchner took office and became critical of her in the intervening decade.
Alberto Fernández, the presidential candidate of Kirchner’s Frente para Todos coalition, arrives to vote in Buenos Aires. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
Alberto Fernández, the presidential candidate of Kirchner’s Frente para Todos coalition, arrives to vote in Buenos Aires. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
After the Fernández-Kirchner primary win in August, Macri announced tax cuts for the middle class, salary increases, social benefits and a fuel price freeze. The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, suspended the last tranche of a record $57 billion deal that represents more than 60 percent of the IMF’s credit portfolio.
Moody’s foresaw high probabilities of a sovereign default next year even if Macri were reelected.
Macri reduced the primary deficit in the last year, but significantly increased the burden of debt service, which returns the fiscal deficit similar to that left by Kirchner in 2015, according to Carlos Melconián, head of the Macroview consultancy firm.
Inflation hit 5.9 percent in September. By the end of the year, poverty will hit 40 percent, according to the Observatory of Social Debt at the Catholic University of Argentina. (The percentage is not comparable to others in Latin America because the poverty line in Argentina is based on higher standards.
Massive protests against austerity measures in Chile and Ecuador and the electoral conflict in Bolivia weighed on Argentine public opinion in the days leading up to the vote. But while Argentina is suffering a recession reminiscent of its economic meltdown at the turn of the century, the campaign was relatively calm. Macri and Fernández headed massive rallies without significant incident.
“Mass demonstrations are something common in Argentina, but the system of political parties has worked well in this country for many years, and that provides a certain stability,” said María Esperanza Casullo, a political scientist at the University of Rio Negro in Patagonia.
Casullo said the next president risks the rapid deterioration of his approval rating.
“Argentine society is deeply anti­hegemonic,” she said. “If expectations are not met, people punish those who fail to meet their expectations.”
But she predicted the Peronistas would remain united, “because these years of Macri in office were really painful for them.”
Voters line up in Buenos Aires. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
Voters line up in Buenos Aires. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
Eduardo Fidanza, director of the political consulting firm Poliarquia, predicted Argentines would allow Fernández and Kirchner a honeymoon. But he said they would have to clarify who was in charge. The running mates disagreed publicly on several points before resuming their old friendship in 2017.
Peronism has majorities in the Congress, Fidanza noted, and maintains links with union leaders, industrial entrepreneurs and the Catholic Church.
Macri pledged to strengthen democracy and ethics in government. Casullo said he was “naive.”
“The reality proved to be more difficult than magically getting results by only removing the Kirchnerites,” she said. “Macri relied too much on slogans, underestimating what claims for an independent judiciary, a plural press and the respect of human rights really represent for many Argentines.”
Lula González contributed to this report.