* Center-leftist Fernandez wins second four-year term
* Seen maintaining big spending, interventionist policies
* Voters credit her for long economic boom, jobs
By Helen Popper and Terry Wade
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 24 Argentina's center-leftist
president, Cristina Fernandez, won a landslide re-election
victory on Sunday as voters credited her unconventional
policies for a long economic boom.
The result marks a dramatic change of fortunes for a leader
who some critics once said might have to leave power early as
angry protests by farmers and middle-class voters battered her
approval ratings soon after she took office.
With votes in from 96 percent of polling stations,
Fernandez had almost 54 percent of the vote with a massive lead
of 36 percentage points over her nearest rival, socialist
candidate Hermes Binner.
No Argentine leader has won such a big share of the vote
since General Juan Domingo Peron was elected for the third time
with 62 percent in 1973.
"If any one of us had said this was possible two years ago,
they would have told us we were crazy," a tearful Fernandez,
58, told thousands of supporters who packed the downtown square
that lies before the pink presidential place in Buenos Aires.
"There's a lot left to do, but if anyone had seen this
country before 2003, they'd realize how much progress we've
made," Fernandez said in a speech laden with references to her
late husband and presidential predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who
governed from 2003 to 2007.
When Kirchner died of a heart attack a year ago, many
thought it spelled the end of the couple's idiosyncratic blend
of state intervention, hefty welfare spending, nationalist
rhetoric and the championing of human rights.
Instead, it prompted an outpouring of sympathy for a woman
who suddenly seemed more likable and recognition of Kirchner's
role in helping the country back on its feet after a sharp
economic crisis in 2001/02 that plunged millions into poverty
and culminated in the biggest debt default in history.
Despite double-digit inflation and other signs of strain as
global conditions worsen, Argentina's economy is growing at
about 8 percent a year and the country has regained some of its
glory as the "breadbasket of the world" as grains shipments
rise. Unemployment is at a 20-year low.
A splintered opposition and voter confidence over the
health of the economy helped Fernandez turn the sympathy vote
over her widow status into solid electoral support.
Two years ago, voters punished her confrontational handling
of the farm conflict by voting in opposition lawmakers in a
mid-term election, but analysts said Sunday's results would
help her regain a narrow working majority in Congress.
"They've done good things and bad things ... but what
matters is that for the first time there's a plan for the
country that involves all Argentines of all classes," said
Malena Juanatey, 25, a film director, who joined thousands of
supporters in downtown Buenos Aires.
But Fernandez's easy re-election belies fierce opposition
to her combative, heavy-handed style -- typical of the Peronist
party that has dominated Argentine politics for decades.
A recent crackdown on economists whose inflation estimates
double the official rate of a discredited state statistics
agency is typical of Fernandez's controversial methods, who
some critics say resemble those of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Businesses are routinely strong-armed into price control
agreements -- her main weapon against surging prices -- and
deals to increase their exports as the trade surplus dwindles.
In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis,
Fernandez stunned financial markets by nationalizing private
pensions. A year later, she fired the head of the central bank
when he refused to hand over foreign reserves to pay debt.
Such measures, coupled with high inflation and lax monetary
and fiscal policy are viewed dimly on Wall Street, where
economists say Latin America's third-biggest economy could be
heading for a hard landing as global conditions sour.
Fernandez has outlined few concrete policy proposals,
vowing only to "deepen the model."
Few analysts think she will change course unless forced to
by a slowdown in neighboring Brazil or lower prices for
Argentina's soy exports. Regaining a working majority in
Congress could strengthen her hand.
"We expect the current policy direction to be broadly
maintained," said Alberto Ramos, chief economist at Goldman
Sachs. "Control of Congress will lead to a significant
concentration of power and gives the government legislative
backing for some of its most interventionist policies."
(Additional reporting by Luis Andres Henao; editing by