This Article is From Oct 26, 2015

Argentines Vote for President, Ending Kirchner Dynasty

Argentines Vote for President, Ending Kirchner Dynasty

File Photo: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner

Buenos Aires: Argentines voted for their next president Sunday, bringing a curtain down on 12 years under power couple Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.

Their heir apparent, Buenos Aires provincial Governor Daniel Scioli, is poised to win but may undo parts of "kirchnerism," a populist creed built around trade protectionism, social welfare and defense of the working classes.

The 58-year-old powerboating fanatic - who lost his right arm in a 1989 racing accident - served as Nestor Kirchner's vice president.

He has vowed to uphold the core of the Kirchners' legacy, but has also promised a change in style to attract more investment and increase productivity.

His top rival is Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, the candidate of Argentines fed up with what they see as the Kirchners' heavy-handed economic policy and belligerent politics.

Macri, 56, rose to prominence as the boss of Argentina's most popular football club, Boca Juniors, which won a string of titles under his reign.

There may also be a spoiler in the form of Sergio Massa, a former Kirchner ally who fell out with the president and launched a rival party, the Renewal Front, two years ago.

The frontrunners invoked sports analogies as they voted, with Scioli and Macri both aligning themselves with the country's team in Sunday's Rugby World Cup semi-final against Australia in Britain.

"They are what Argentina should be, with that grit, that pride, that strength to wear the Argentine jersey," Scioli said amid a scrum of journalists.

Macri said he was on his way home to watch the match, calling Los Pumas "an example of the Argentina we all want."

Despite this high-level cheerleading, the Pumas lost 29-15, exiting the tournament.

Under Argentine electoral law, in order to win outright in the first round, a candidate must claim more than 45 percent of the vote, or at least 40 percent with a margin of 10 points over the runner-up.

Opinion polls put Scioli at about 40 percent, with Macri at around 30 percent and Massa around 20 percent -- roughly the same scores seen in the August primary.

That means the country could be headed for its first-ever run-off election, on November 22.

Looming recession

Nestor Kirchner came to office in 2003, in the aftermath of a devastating economic crisis that triggered what was then the largest sovereign debt default in history.

He presided over a stunning turnaround underpinned by average economic growth of more than eight percent a year.

He handed power to his wife in 2007. They were widely expected to continue their term-for-term tango, but Nestor died of a heart attack in 2010.

Cristina, a fiery former senator, won re-election in 2011.

As she cast her ballot Sunday, the 62-year-old leader said she was proud to be handing over a "normal" country.

"In the past, we've always voted in the middle of crisis," said Kirchner, who leaves office with an approval rating of around 50 percent after serving the two-term limit.

But the economic magic of the early Kirchner years has faded.

When Argentina's next president takes office on December 10, he will inherit a country troubled by inflation, an overvalued currency and an economy facing what the International Monetary Fund predicts will be a 0.7 percent contraction next year.

Argentina, Latin America's third-largest economy, after Brazil and Mexico, is also still waging a messy legal battle with two American hedge funds that reject its plans to restructure the $100 billion in debt it defaulted on in 2001.

The firms, which Kirchner condemns as "vulture funds," successfully sued for full payment in US federal court. Kirchner's refusal to pay them pushed Argentina into a new default last year.

Her tenure has also been marked by acrimonious battles with big media, the courts and old Falklands War enemy Britain.

Argentina's 32 million voters, who are required to cast ballots, are also electing their representatives in Congress and regional bloc Mercosur. Eleven of the country's 23 provinces are electing governors and other officials.

Polls close at 6:00 pm (2100 GMT), and first results are expected around three hours later.

But pollsters have warned the numbers are so close that counting could stretch well into the night.