Argentina's first lady sweeps to presidency
BUENOS AIRES |
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner swept to victory in Argentina's presidential race on her husband's economic successes, but now confronts stern challenges posed by the boom he helped create.
Fernandez will take over from her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, on December 10 after taking more than 40 percent of the vote on Sunday to become Argentina's first elected woman leader.
The vote was largely a referendum on Kirchner's handling of the economy, which has grown at China-style rates topping 8 percent a year since he came to office four years ago.
But Fernandez faces mounting concern about high inflation, energy shortages and a growing perception among some Argentines that the Kirchners have accumulated too much power.
In a conciliatory victory speech on Monday, the 54-year-old lawyer and long-time senator appealed for support across the political spectrum
"We know it's necessary to deepen the changes, and to do that, we need to rally the biggest number of Argentines to help us," she said.
With ballots counted at 96.5 percent of polling stations, Fernandez had 44.91 percent support, followed by another female candidate, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio, who had 22.95 percent.
Fernandez "will face several problems right away that have dragged on and have not found a adequate solution: inflation, an energy crisis ... and the need for more investment," wrote political columnist Eduardo van der Kooy in the Clarin newspaper.
Voters weary of Argentina's history of sharp economic swings hope she will build on his record in a highly unusual handover between democratically elected spouses.
"This is the best thing that could have happened to Argentina," middle-aged Buenos Aires grocer Ahmad Alauy said on Monday. "It means her husband's project can continue."
"THE FIRST HUSBAND"
The Kirchners, Argentina's undisputed power couple, have been called "the Clintons of the South" and the president is expected to stay active behind the scenes.
Kirchner's cabinet chief said Kirchner, who could have run for re-election but backed his wife instead, would assume a lower profile once she was sworn in.
"Although they discuss everything ... they are both perfectly aware of the role each of them must play," Alberto Fernandez told local radio.
Fernandez is the first woman to be voted into office but not the first to run the country. Isabel Peron, the widow of strongman Juan Domingo Peron, took over as president after he died in 1974 but was ousted by a military coup two years later.
Argentine markets reacted positively to the widely expected election result, with bonds rising about 2 percent on average and stocks trading slightly higher.
Kirchner's ruling Front for Victory coalition, an offshoot of the Peronist party, also secured a majority in both houses of Congress and dominated the election of eight governors.
But the presidential vote also exposed what analysts said was growing discontent in some urban areas with the Kirchners' rule.
"If they don't have anyone against them in Congress, they'll pass whatever laws they want," said Antonio Bruno, a 67-year-old retiree in Buenos Aires.
Much of Fernandez's support came from Argentina's poor and working classes in Buenos Aires province, the country's most populous, and the impoverished northern provinces, where many credit Kirchner with creating jobs.
Voting tallies showed Carrio, an anti-corruption crusader who pledged to bolster the country's fragile institutions, fared well with middle- and upper-class voters in several of Argentina's biggest cities, beat Fernandez in the capital city Buenos Aires.
(For more on Argentina's presidential election, click on www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/argentina)
(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray, Juan Bustamante and Lucas Bergman)
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