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Argentinas Peronists Sweep Back Into Power in Populist Shift to the Left

BUENOS AIRES—Argentinas Peronists swept back into power on Sunday, ousting conservative president Mauricio Macri in an election result that shifts Latin Americas No. 3 economy firmly back toward the left as it continues to be battered by economic crisis.

Peronist Alberto Fernandez had 47.79 percent of the vote, ahead of Macris 40.71 percent, with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, putting the center-left challenger over the 45 percent threshold to avoid a runoff and win the election outright.

Macri, speaking at his election party, conceded the race and congratulated Fernandez. He said he had invited Fernandez to the presidential palace on Oct. 28 to discuss an orderly transition, seen as essential for Argentinas shaky economy and markets.

Fernandez, speaking afterwards alongside running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, said he would meet Macri and collaborate with the outgoing leader “in any way we can.”

“The times ahead are not easy,” he told cheering supporters at his election party. “But of course we will collaborate in everything we can, because the only thing that concerns us is that Argentines stop suffering once and for all.”

Raucous crowds cheered at Fernandezs election headquarters, with the mood far more muted across the city at Macris election camp, even though his right-leaning “Together for Change” coalition performed much more strongly than many polls had expected.

“This resounding victory in the first round is a very clear expression of the Argentine people,” said Felipe Solá, one of Fernandezs closest advisers with the “Front for All” party.

Supporters of presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez
Supporters of presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez
Supporters of presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez react, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Oct. 27, 2019. (Pablo Stefanec/Reuters)

A candidate needs 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the runner-up, to avoid a second round.

Fernandez had been the heavy favorite since winning a landslide victory in primaries in August. He extended that lead in pre-election opinion polls.

“Alberto has won it and I am super happy. We spent four very hard years,” Paola Fiore, a 35-year-old public employee, told Reuters at Fernandezs election base. “The excitement and expectations we have are because we know that a government that thinks about the people is back.”

The vote will have far-reaching implications. Argentina is one of the worlds top grain exporters, is stirring the energy world with its huge Vaca Muerta shale field and is on the cusp of restructuring talks with creditors over $100 billion in debt.

2 Opposing Views

Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. on Oct. 27. Soon afterward, Argentine media quickly started to call the election in Fernandezs favor, although with few details about the size of his lead.

“I voted for Fernandez because I see people just very unhappy in the street and I want a country with a better economy and more social support,” Carlos Berenguer, 71, said outside a polling station in the district of Palermo in Buenos Aires.

Macri supporter José Luis Salomón, the mayor of farming town Saladillo, said: “Whats in play in this election are simply two opposing views of the country.”

Fernandez, a relative unknown outside Argentine political circles until this year, held a 20-point lead in most opinion polls after winning the August primary. Markets had been rattled after the primary as investors feared a populist political shift to the left.

The primary result—and the market crash that followed—sharply altered the dynamic of the race, pushing the country further into economic crisis and making Macri the underdog in an election that most had thought would be a closely fought battle.

“We are in an enormous crisis and as a result, we all have to be very responsible for whats coming. It will be an effort from all of us,” Fernandez said when he cast his vote in a Buenos Aires polling station.

Fears of Peronists in Charge of Broken Economy

The economy has taken center stage, with Argentina in the grip of recession for most of the past year, the outlook for growth darkening, annual inflation above 50 percent, job numbers down and poverty up sharply.

Other voters said, however, they feared a return of the Peronist left, which they blamed for leaving an already broken economy when Macri came to power in 2015. Supporters of the president said Macri needed more time to sort things out.

“Even though its been four complex years, I have hope Macri can fix it,” said Pablo Nicolás, 36, an accountant, as he voted. He said he did not trust Fernandezs running mate, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

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