Centre-right opposition candidate Mauricio Macri won the presidential runoff Sunday in Argentina and hailed a new era after 12 years of government by the left-leaning Kirchner couple.
“This change cannot stop for revenge or vendettas,” he told celebrating supporters. “It needs to take us to the future.”
With 97 per cent of ballots counted, Buenos Aires Mayor Macri, 56, of the opposition coalition Cambiemos (Let’s Change) had nearly 52 per cent of the vote.
His opponent, ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli, 58, had 48 per cent and conceded defeat.
“The will of the people elected a new president, Mauricio Macri, whom I have just greeted over the phone wishing him success for the good of our country,” Scioli said.
Outgoing Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had reportedly congratulated Macri.
The election embodies change after 12 years of rule by Fernandez de Kirchner (2007-15) and her husband, late president Nestor Kirchner (2003-07).
The Kirchners have long been accused by critics of too much authoritarianism and too little consensus-building. Macri was quick to call for unity.
“We Argentinians know that we need to build the country we want and dream of together,” he said.
Macri, 56, former president of the popular Buenos Aires football club Boca Juniors and son of a prominent Argentinian-Italian businessman, had finished second to Scioli in the first round of voting on October 25, but still exceeded expectations.
Reaped support from several first-round losers, Macri had been seen as the second-round favourite.
“With your votes today, you made possible what was impossible, what no one believed in,” he said.
Macri then indulged in the goofy dance that has become a trademark of his political celebrations in recent years.
Argentinian laws banned Fernandez de Kirchner from standing for a third consecutive term, and she backed Scioli, her husband’s former vice president.
As she cast her ballot in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, Fernandez de Kirchner, 62, declined to say whether she would continue to lead her party if Scioli lost the election.
“I am an activist. I have never seen myself as a leader in anything, I never order anyone anything, so don’t get me into a debate that is not fit for a day like this,” she told reporters.
“The future will be whatever Argentinians want. Nothing lasts forever.”
Macri will not have a majority in either house of Congress, though his party does control the key governorship of the powerful Buenos Aires province adjacent to the capital – which had been continuously held by the now-opposition Peronists since 1987 – and the city of Buenos Aires, among other key districts.
Argentina faces economic challenges amid a global fall in commodity prices.
The country’s main trading partner, Brazil, is in recession. Argentina has so far continued to achieve marginal growth, but that may not be sustainable.
Critics have slammed Fernandez de Kirchner’s policy of handouts and blamed her for an inflation rate that is likely well above 20 per cent.
Argentina’s next president, due to take office on December 10, will need to deal with inflation, as well as foreign exchange controls that have led to a thriving black market for dollars and shrinking central bank reserves.