- - Sunday, November 22, 2015

BUENOS AIRES — Mauricio Macri will be Argentina’s next president as voters on Sunday picked the center-right Buenos Aires mayor to succeed populist Cristina Fernandez, the winner’s longtime political nemesis.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Macri pocketed 52 percent in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff. Ms. Fernandez’s handpicked heir, Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli, scored 48 percent and conceded early on on the election night.

A highly emotional Mr. Macri danced and sang to chants of “Argentina, Argentina” and “Yes, we can” from the crowd gathered at his victory rally. Accompanied by leaders of his Cambiemos coalition of both center-left and center-right forces, he reiterated his key campaign promises of eliminating poverty and fighting the drug trade.

“Thank you for having believed that, together, we can build the Argentina we deserve,” Mr. Macri said. “Today is a historic day. It’s a change of times.”

In an apparent effort to counter those who had painted him as the candidate of the rich, Mr. Macri paid special homage to his longtime secretary, Anita, whom he invited onto the stage and included in a long list of “thank you” greetings to political leaders and operatives.

The president-elect had long been viewed as the underdog until Mr. Scioli scored unexpectedly little support in the vote’s Oct. 25 first round. But most who last month backed third-place finisher Sergio Massa apparently went for Mr. Macri on Sunday.

“This is the beginning of a new era of dialogue [and] respect, an era in which we can work [together] even though we think differently,” Mr. Massa, who served as Cabinet chief before breaking with Ms. Fernandez, said in an apparent jab at the president with whom the capital’s mayor had a tense relationship.

Mr. Scioli, meanwhile, congratulated his rival while defending the outgoing president’s policies.

“The people have chosen an alternative,” the governor said. “Let’s hope that God enlightens him.”

With his victory, Mr. Macri — who founded his center-right PRO party just 10 years ago — put an end to the 12-year reign in which Ms. Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner, her late husband and predecessor, dominated the Argentine political landscape with a leftist brand of Peronism that had seemed invincible.

But on Dec. 10, the outgoing president will be forced to bestow the presidential sash upon her successor, whom she accused of having run a “sewer campaign.”

“Politically, it means the end of the Kirchnerist era after 12 years,” said Mariano de Vedia, a political commentator for the La Nacion daily.

To battle rampant inflation and attract foreign investments, Mr. Macri is likely to revise key tenets of the incumbent’s economic policy. Most notably, he has promised to do away with the unpopular currency controls put into place to prop up an economy reeling from the end of a commodities boom, which in turn powered the first part of the Kirchners’ rule.

On the international front, the 56-year-old engineer may rethink the partnerships Ms. Fernandez forged with Beijing and Moscow, and instead try to mend the strained ties with Washington that the two-term president leaves behind, Mr. de Vedia said.

“He is going to exhibit a government [that is] more aligned with the United States and with Europe,” Mr. de Vedia said. “That change will be immediate, I believe.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Macri’s victory almost certainly spells an end to Argentina’s entanglement with Venezuela, whose leftist leaders — embattled President Nicolas Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez — the Kirchners counted among their closest allies, said political scientist Pablo Camusso.

Mr. Macri repeatedly has accused Mr. Maduro of human right violations and has called for Caracas to be suspended from the Mercosur trade bloc.

“He could produce an earthquake with respect to what was, for a decade, [Argentina‘s] foreign policy in Latin America.” Mr. Camusso said. “Macri’s victory will lead to certain complications with the Mercosur.”

The president-elect’s inauguration will take place in fewer than 20 days in the Argentine Congress, where Mr. Marci’s Cambiemos coalition lacks a majority. Mr. Macri will thus need to forge deals with Peronist lawmakers now loyal to Ms. Fernandez, a feat possible only if more moderate forces take control of Argentina’s dominant political movement.

Though his PRO party will control the key electoral districts of Buenos Aires City and the surrounding province, Mr. Macri seems aware of his predicament in the legislature and has not tired of exhorting the values of “dialogue” during his campaign. He further urged the outgoing president to ensure an “orderly transition.”

“I hope that we will all be working [together] as we sit around the same table on Dec. 11,” Mr. Marci said.

The role Ms. Fernandez may play on that date, or what her political fate may hold during the next four years, meanwhile, remains a mystery. But the 62-year-old may well aspire to retain — or regain — the leadership of the Peronist movement, Mr. de Vedia said.

“That is not going to be easy,” he said. “It is going to be a mid- to long-term strategy.”

At least on Sunday, though, Ms. Fernandez seemed to have understood that the political winds in Argentina were changing.

“The future will now be what Argentines want it to be,” she said after voting in the southern Santa Cruz province. “Nothing is forever.”


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