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Argentina’s first lady now president

Cristina Kirchner rides an economic boom and her husband's popularity to victory in a presidential election to become the country's first elected woman leader.

world Updated: Oct 30, 2007 02:25 IST
Fiona Ortiz

Argentine first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner rode an economic boom and her husband's popularity to victory in a presidential election on Sunday to become the country's first elected woman leader.

Fernandez, a glamorous lawyer and center-left senator, will take over from President Nestor Kirchner in December in a rare power handover between democratically elected spouses.

Partial results showed Fernandez with 44 percent support and a wide lead, enough to claim victory and avoid a runoff vote. Her main rivals, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio and former economy minister Roberto Lavagna, both conceded defeat.

Fernandez, 54, ran an effortless campaign without a primary, a candidates' debate or concrete policy outlines. She instead met foreign leaders and trumpeted lower poverty rates since Kirchner took office four years ago.

"We've won by a wide margin," Fernandez told joyous followers in a speech at her campaign bunker on Sunday. "I want to call you to the future because since 2003 we have advanced a lot against poverty and unemployment."

Kirchner is credited with leading Argentina's recovery from an economic meltdown in 2001-2002. The crisis devastated a proud middle class that long distinguished Argentina, a major grains exporter, from its Latin American neighbours and led it to default on $100 billion in debt.

"This country was destroyed. It was a country in default, with millions of people unemployed. Suddenly, everything changed. She's going to take the policies of this government even further," said Lilia Balencia, 65, a social worker celebrating at Fernandez's campaign bunker on Sunday night.

Although a fiscal conservative, Kirchner increased the state's role in the economy, reversing many privatizations from the 1990s and placing price controls on utility rates and fuel prices.

Much more comfortable on the diplomatic stage than her travel-shy husband, Fernandez will remain friendly with anti-US President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela while trying to improve relations with Washington.

The bulk of Fernandez's support came from poor people who think Kirchner has improved their lives, partly through new pensions and tax breaks. But top opposition candidate Carrio took almost one of four votes nationwide and gave Fernandez a run for her money in middle class and urban areas like the capital Buenos Aires.

Opposition candidates were not able to capitalise on corruption scandals involving Kirchner officials, or on Argentines' top concern: the steeply rising cost of living.

Fernandez was a leftist student activist in the 1970s and a political junkie. The mother of two has said even her family took a back seat to her ideals of bringing greater social equality to Argentina.