Argentina's Fernandez re-elected in landslide

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez cruised to a second term thanks to a historic landslide majority, buoyed by popular government programs to combat poverty amid a booming economy.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner greets supporters after casting her vote Sunday in a polling station in Patagonia. Fernandez's anti-poverty programs looked set to handily propel her to a second term. (Andres Stapff/Reuters)

President Cristina Fernandez has been re-elected with one of the widest victory margins in Argentine history by persuading voters that she alone, even without her late powerbroker husband, is best able to keep spreading the wealth of an economic boom.

Fernandez had nearly 54 per cent of the votes cast in Sunday's election, with nearly 97 per cent of polling stations reporting nationwide. Her nearest challenger got just under 17 per cent.

The victory makes Fernandez the first woman re-elected as president in Latin America. But it is bittersweet for her personally. It's the first in a lifetime of politics without her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who died of a heart attack last Oct. 27.

Workers sing in Plaza de Mayo, the main square in downtown Buenos Aires, in celebration of the anticipated re-election of President Cristina Fernandez. (Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty)

"This is a strange night for me," she said in her victory speech, describing her mix of emotions. "This man who transformed Argentina led us all and gave everything he had and more.... Without him, without his valour and courage, it would have been impossible to get to this point.

"Count on me to continue pursuing the project," Fernandez vowed. "All I want is to keep collaborating... to keep Argentina growing."

Fernandez's victory margin over socialist Gov. Hermes Binner and five other candidates was wider even than the 1973 margin of her strongman hero, Juan Domingo Peron.

Her Front for Victory coalition hoped to regain enough seats in Congress to form new alliances and regain the control it lost in 2009. At play were 130 seats in the lower house and 24 in the Senate.

Popular anti-poverty programs

Fernandez's poll numbers had dipped during the early years of her presidency, but she reversed the negatives as a widow, softening her usually combative tone while gaining loyalty from the country's political elite and confidence from its poor.

While her rivals went negative in the campaign, Fernandez, 58, talked about "utopia" and cited real achievements: She and Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007, have put more money in the pockets of the poor and created more social programs to help them than any leader since Argentina's seminal populist strongman, Juan Domingo Peron, and his wife, Evita. Since Nestor Kirchner took office, poverty rates have plummeted.

One popular program among Argentina's hard-hit class is a $3-billion system of monthly allowances that Fernandez created by presidential decree. It sees families get $64 a month for each child they keep in public school.

Fernandez has increased retiree pensions and last month raised the minimum wage by 25 per cent to $541 a month, Latin America's highest. And since the start of her husband's first term, poverty levels have dropped from 54 per cent to eight per cent this year, according to the government's INDEC statistics service.

Artemio Lopez, who directs the Consultora Equis firm, says his calculations suggests it's closer to 21 per cent of Argentina's 40 million people who live in poverty, but that's still the longest period of improvement the country has seen since it regained democracy in 1983.

"People are voting for economic stability," explained Mariel Fornoni, who directs the Management & Fit consulting firm.