In an election that yielded few surprises, First Lady and Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the presidency in a landslide victory, capturing 43.9% of the vote and besting her nearest rival, Elisa Carrió, by over 20 percentage points. While competing candidates had placed their hopes in the possibility of a runoff, it was apparent from early on that the night would end with a Kirchner win. With less than 10% of the national vote officially counted, a confident Kirchner strode onto the stage at her campaign bunker inside the Intercontinental Hotel and declared victory. Kirchner becomes the first woman to win a presidential election in Argentina and will succeed her husband, Nestór, on 10th December.
While the outcome of the election was all but certain before the polls opened, the specific results have delineated a new political landscape in the country. Kirchner’s national triumph serves as an overwhelming validation of her husband’s administration, giving the Kirchners’ party, Frente para la Victoria, a clear mandate to continue and expand upon its policies. Kirchner carried every province in the country with the exception of San Luis (where current governor Alberto Rodriguez Sáa captured 68% of the vote), Córdoba (where former finance minister Roberto Lavagna beat out Kirchner by over 10 percentage points), and the city Buenos Aires (where Chaco governor Elisa Carrió triumphed over Kirchner 36% to 25%.)
Carrió’s strong showing, combined with victories by her Coalición Civica candidates in the capital, elevated her to the status of de-facto leader of the opposition. Carrió quickly went on the offensive on election night, joining with other rival candidates in claiming that voting irregularities had tipped the scales even more decisively in the government’s favor. A formal letter of protest was signed by representatives from all the major opposition parties, citing ‘the absence of ballots at the start of the elections’ and ‘a systematic and massive robbery with the purpose of subverting the will of the citizens’.
The government categorically rejected these allegations. Anibal Fernández, Minister of the Interior, claimed that contrary to the opposition’s claims the election was ‘one of the most transparent in the history of Argentina’.
Kirchner’s early victory speech also rankled her opponents. Carrió criticized the Kirchners for celebrating their triumph when so little of the vote had been officially tallied. “There’s no civilized country in the world where a candidate announces victory before at least 60% of the vote has been counted,” Carrió said.
Yet these complaints could do little to quell the ebullient mood at the Kirchner camp, where the president-elect extended an olive branch to her opponents and reaffirmed her commitment to all Argentines, whether or not they had voted to her.
Kirchner’s conciliatory gestures yielded some immediate results. In her victory speech, the president-elect spoke of her continued opposition to abortion, a statement that sat very well with the Church hierarchy. On the following Thursday, Cardinal Jorge Borgoglio sent a congratulatory note to Kirchner, leading to speculation that the relationship between the Church and the government may warm considerably after years of a frosty distance.
While Cristina Kirchner’s administration is expected to continue the majority of her husband’s policies, commentators have speculated that she will break from his precedent in a number of areas. Foreign policy appears to be first on the president-elect’s list.
With her victory all but assured, Cristina Kirchner spent little time campaigning within the country, choosing instead to tour Europe with the hopes of forming stronger global ties. Néstor Kirchner focused his foreign policy primarily on Latin America; Cristina Kirchner seems to have a more expansive international outlook. It was no accident that Ségolène Royal, the former French presidential candidate, was on hand for the Kirchners’ election night festivities. President-elect Kirchner wants to be the global face of her nation in a way that her husband never has been.
While the election proved a rousing victory for the Kirchners, and a promising victory-in-defeat for Elisa Carrió, it was a major setback for Mauricio Macri, the capital’s ambitious head of government-elect. Macri had hoped to use the elections as a foundation on which to build a strong opposition to the Kirchner government, fueling speculation that he plans to run for the presidency in 2011.
Yet, Macri’s election day project proved a dud. His party, Propuesta Republicana (PRO), fielded a slate of candidates in Buenos Aires city but captured only two seats in the Lower House, casting serious doubts on Macri’s ability to create a nationally viable party. In June, Macri, the former president of the Boca Juniors football club, won 60% of the vote in the run-off election for head of government of the capital, leading many to anoint him the most compelling alternative to the Kirchners. Yet following his defeats on election night, he will assume power on 10th December from a considerably weaker position than he held a mere three months ago.
The ramifications of this historic election will play out over the years to come, but for now, it appears the county is holding its breath. The first democratically-elected female president will face serious challenges from the moment she assumes power, from curbing runaway inflation to reeling in a serious crime problem that afflicts many of the country’s major cities. On election night, Buenos Aires was remarkably still, the Plaza de Mayo lying as empty as any other night. The Kirchners’ bunker in the Intercontinental Hotel may have been raucous, but outside were tough realties lying in wait. Even with Carrió’s rise and Macri’s stumble, the opposition remains splintered. It appears, then, that the course of Argentina’s foreseeable future will rest squarely on the shoulders of the new president.