BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will become Argentina’s first elected woman leader after easily winning a presidential vote that was largely a referendum on her husband’s economic successes.
Fernandez claimed victory in Sunday’s election as official results showed her with well over 40 percent of the vote and a big lead over her closest rival, enough to avoid a runoff vote next month.
With results in from almost two-thirds of polling stations, Fernandez had 43.6 percent support, followed by former lawmaker Elisa Carrio, who had 22.6 percent and conceded defeat.
“This is a triumph for all Argentines,” Fernandez told cheering supporters at her campaign bunker in a message that also acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead.
“Instead of putting us in a position of privilege, it gives us bigger responsibilities and greater obligations,” she said of the election victory.
The Kirchners are Argentina’s undisputed power couple and have been called “the Clintons of the South.”
Fernandez, a 54-year-old lawyer, is one of her husband’s key aides and a longtime senator. Voters weary of Argentina’s repeated boom-and-bust cycles said they hope she will deepen the economic course set by her husband.
After a deep 2001-02 economic crisis, South America’s second largest economy has expanded at China-style rates since Kirchner came to office four years ago.
Growth has topped 8 percent a year, driven by strong consumer spending and agricultural exports.
“Cristina is going to follow in Kirchner’s footsteps,” said housewife Betty Cuadros, 54. “She’s going to do what he hasn’t been able to do yet, and take the country forward.
But even as Fernandez inherits the credit Argentines give Kirchner for overseeing an economic boom, she also faces mounting concerns about high inflation, energy shortages and a growing perception among some Argentines the Kirchners may have accumulated too much power.
“On one side, she has won backing, but on the other there is a clear message that some issues need to be addressed,” said political analyst Enrique Zuleta Puceiro.
Argentines, still stung by bouts of hyperinflation in the 1970s and 1980s, have expressed concern about climbing prices and recently called for boycotts of tomatoes, potatoes and other foods as prices have soared.
Exit polls showed Carrio, an anti-corruption crusader who campaigned on pledges of strengthening the country’s fragile institutions, took one out of four votes nationwide and fared well with middle- and upper-class voters in several of Argentina’s biggest cities.
“There’s a sector of public opinion, especially in urban areas, that is expressing discontent (with the Kirchners),” said Sergio Berensztein, an analyst with the polling group Poliarquia.
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 generating jobs.
In her victory speech, Fernandez appealed for Argentines’ support.
“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.
Additional reporting by Hilary Burke and Helen Popper in Buenos Aires