Argentina’s Mauricio Macri has conceded defeat in Sunday’s presidential elections, ushering in a return to power for the populist Peronist party that has governed Latin America’s third-largest economy for all but six of the past 30 years.
Alberto Fernández, the 60-year-old former cabinet chief from 2003 to 2008, triumphed with 48 per cent of the vote, while Mr Macri’s centre-right coalition received 40.5 per cent, with 95 per cent of the ballots counted.
“The times ahead will not be easy,” Mr Fernández told rapturous supporters who waved Argentine flags and chanted “We are coming back!”
He said that he would meet Mr Macri on Monday to smooth the transition. “I hope that those who will now be our opponents are aware of the situation they have left us and that they help us to rebuild the country.”
Mr Macri conceded defeat in an emotional address to his supporters and vowed to “continue working for Argentines through a healthy, constructive and responsible opposition”.
The Peronist victory justified former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s surprising decision to invite the lesser known and more moderate Mr Fernández, who is no relation, to run for the presidency, while she became his running mate.
The strategy enabled the reunification of Peronism after it was deeply divided just two years ago — when the two Fernándezes were not even on speaking terms.
The new Peronist government will inherit an economy in crisis, on the brink of its ninth debt default, in recession and with inflation at around 55 per cent. Although Mr Macri also faced a disastrous economic situation when he took power four years ago, most headline macroeconomic statistics are now considerably worse after a bruising currency crisis that forced Argentina to seek a record $57bn bailout from the IMF.
The market-friendly Mr Macri’s popularity suffered from a more-than 30 per cent devaluation of the peso after primaries in August, which Mr Fernández won by 16 points. Investors took fright at the prospect of a return to the Peronist’s populist economic policies.
The Fernández duo amply fulfilled the conditions required to seal an outright win by securing at least 45 per cent of the vote to avoid a runoff vote in late November.
At stake in the elections were also half of the seats in the lower house of congress and a third of the senate. Early results suggest that the Peronists and the centre-right opposition will have similar representation, with each group controlling almost half of both chamber.
Although many of the seats for provincial governors were already filled in separate elections, Mr Macri’s coalition lost control on Sunday of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s most populous province. María Eugenia Vidal lost by about 13 points to Axel Kicillof, who served as economy minister under Ms Fernández.
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, a member of Mr Macri’s inner circle who succeeded him as mayor of Buenos Aires in 2015, was re-elected in the capital city and might become the de facto leader of the centre-right coalition if the outgoing president withdraws from politics.