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Argentina’s President Macri Defeated As Voters Cast Verdict On Ailing Economy

Photo caption:

Photo by Daniel Jayo AP

Peronist presidential candidate Alberto Fernández and running mate, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, wave to supporters after incumbent President Mauricio Macri conceded defeat at the end of election day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday.

Argentina's center-left has swept to victory in general elections, ousting conservative President Mauricio Macri, as voters thumped the incumbent for failing to deliver on a promise to create more jobs and raise the country's standard of living.

President-elect Alberto Fernández owes his victory in large part to former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who masterminded a comeback for herself, but chose to run for vice president rather than the top job. The two are no relation.

Many assume that the flamboyant and savvy Fernández de Kirchner will be the real power behind the president, although the candidates themselves have tried to dispel that notion.

The candidates beat Macri, a wealthy businessman and former mayor of Buenos Aires, in a decisive first round. With most of the votes counted, they were polling 47% to Macri's 41%.

Car horns blared and crowds of supporters appeared outside the victors' campaign headquarters Sunday as the results became clear.

"Today, Alberto is the president of all Argentines," Fernández de Kirchner, who governed Argentina from 2007 to 2015, told those gathered to cheer the victory for the Frente para Todos, or Everybody's Front, coalition. "He will have a very hard task ahead of us that will require the cooperation of all Argentines."

"The only thing that concerns us is that Argentines stop suffering once and for all," the president-elect told the crowd. "We're back and we're going to be better!"

Supporter Juan José de Antonio, 46, told The Associated Press that he and others "were waiting for this change for a long time."

"We're tired of everything that has been happening," he said. "Some of us live a different reality from those suffering hunger, but when you have a friend who lost a job, a neighbor who can't make ends meet, it hits you."

Macri, who was elected in 2015, had promised "zero poverty" and a resurgent economy. Instead, he leaves office with ballooning inflation, a plunging peso, a poverty rate that has risen from 29% to 35% and an outstanding $57 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. His austerity policies further antagonized voters.

Fernández de Kirchner, the first woman to be elected Argentina's president, is a huge figure in Latin American leftist politics. She served two terms as president, succeeding her husband Néstor Kirchner who died in office, and returns to power despite a slew of corruption allegations and political scandals.

President-elect Fernández is a lawyer who previously served as the chief of the cabinet of ministers, a position similar to prime minister, under former President Néstor Kirchner and his wife. Fernández is considered a moderate Peronist – the populist, corporatist ideology that has largely dominated the country's politics since the movement's inception at the end of World War II. It takes its name from Argentina's former President Juan Domingo Perón and his second wife Evita Perón.

Fernández assumes office on December 10. He's promised to improve wages and benefits and to pay back the IMF loan taken out by his predecessor.

Even so, memories of his running mate's interventionist policies could rattle financial markets and further depreciate the peso. Among other things, that would make the IMF loan even harder to repay.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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