A number of opinion polls predict a close fight between incumbent Mauricio Macri and challenger Alberto Fernandez.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – Buckling under the weight of an economic crisis, voters in Argentina gave Alberto Fernandez and his running mate, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a victory in the presidential primaries on Sunday, dealing a setback on incumbent President Mauricio Macri.
With most votes counted, the Fernandez/Kirchner ticket, under the banner of Frente de Todos, had earned 47 percent of the vote, to the 32 percent earned by Juntos por el Cambio, the offering of incumbent president Mauricio Macri.
In his victory speech, Fernandez spoke of his priorities, backing the rights of workers, boosting the pensions of retirees, supporting small and medium-sized businesses, and expanding public universities.
“We haven’t come to restore a regime, we’re here to create a better Argentina,” said Fernandez, who is considered more of a centrist to his left-wing running mate, and promised to earn the respect of those who had not voted for him.
Speaking from her home province of Santa Cruz, Fernandez de Kirchner celebrated the results.
“But not just because we won an election. This is not about a soccer game,” she said. “We are happy and optimistic that many Argentines understand and finally support that things have to change in Argentina, because things are not well right now, we’re not living well, we’re not calm. I think most Argentines are no longer happy. Things are too hard,” she said.
The official results have yet to be announced, but Macri has already acknowledged that he and his party, Juntos por el Cambio, had a “bad election”.
“Tomorrow we’ll have to redouble our efforts, to ensure that in October, we can continue with our change,” said Macri referring to the general elections. He was flanked by his vice presidential running mate, Miguel Angel Pichetto, and other disappointed political allies.
The primaries are meant to settle internal battles in the parties, but they also act as a bellwether ahead of the October 27 polls.
The winner needs to achieve at least 45 percent or between 40 and 44 percent, and a 10-point lead over the nearest challenger, to win outright.
Failing that, voters will go to a runoff in November.
Voting is mandatory over the age of 18, and optional for people over the age of 70 and 16- and 17-year-olds. The official result was delayed by more than an hour, with local media reporting failures in the software that scrutinise the votes.
This election is being fought on two key issues – the battered economy that has seen inflation skyrocket, the currency plummet in value, factories close and workers lose jobs.
Looming large is the presence of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s name in the ballot. She completed two terms as president, ushering in greater levels of social spending. Alongside her deceased husband, former president Nestor Carlos Kirchner, they built up a powerful left-wing political bloc known as Kirchnerismo.
By the time her term came to an end, allegations of corruption and a faltering economy dominated the conversation, and Macri eked out a win in 2015 on a promise of change.
Macri quickly slashed subsidies, and cut spending, but his reforms have not delivered and things are worse, according to analysts.
He also came under fire from the opposition for the $57bn bailout deal he negotiated with the International Monetary Fund.
On Monday, all eyes will be on how the markets respond. On Sunday, Macri said the October election will decide “the next 30 years in Argentina”.
“We have heard the vote of the people, we believe in democracy,” he said.
“The level of difficulties we have had to confront these last few years, has led to a lot of anguish, a lot of doubt, but I insist: I am here to help you, I’m here because I love this country, and I believe in each of you, and I believe in what we can all do.”
Sunday’s results thrilled voter Claudia Rivero, a grandmother, who said she never had faith in Macri.
Rivero lives in Jose C Paz, a municipality in the Greater Buenos Aires area, known as the “conurbano”, where she says the level of poverty is rising.
“When Cristina was here, I worked three days a week, and I worked four hours a day and the money was enough. Now I have to work all week, eight hours a day,” she said. “In my house, all of us will vote for Cristina. I think things will improve a lot. I have faith in her.”
Another voter, Oscar Perez, a taxi driver, has also seen his lot decline. He had to move to a more affordable neighbourhood, and no longer considers himself in the middle class. But he sees this period as a “transition”.
“I’m not saying that he is the best, because evidently, I’m not doing better. But compared to what there was and what Macri offers, as an alternative, a door of hope, I would rather have this,” he said.