Argentina’s Macri wins crucial midterm poll, as ex-president Kirchner snares a senate seat in opposition

Kirchner’s return to politics will grant her immunity from corruption charges, while President Mauricio Macri’s coalition has strengthened its hand

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 9:12pm

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri’s centre-right coalition swept crucial midterm elections Sunday and emerged with a strengthened hand to carry through pro-market economic reforms, according to nearly completed count results.

Ex-president Cristina Kirchner meanwhile took a seat in the Senate, marking a return to the political stage she dominated for 12 years before stepping down in 2015, and guaranteeing herself parliamentary immunity from a string of corruption charges.

“We did not win as a party; what won was the certainty that we can change history, and build with love,” a triumphant Macri told cheering supporters in Buenos Aires.

“An Argentine with desire has no limits, we are unstoppable,” he said.

Kirchner said her new centre-left Unidad Ciudadana or “Citizen’s Unity” party had distinguished itself in the vote as the only alternative to Macri’s government.

“We must be proud of this result. Unidad Ciudadana has emerged as the strongest opposition to this government,” an ebullient Kirchner told her supporters.

“Here nothing is over, everything starts now,” she said.

Macri’s Cambiemos, or “Let’s Change,” won in 13 of Argentina’s 23 provinces, as well as in the capital Buenos Aires, according to almost completed counts early Monday.

Sunday’s vote, with an official turnout of 78 per cent, was widely seen as a referendum on Macri after two years in office, in which he was seeking a mandate to further overhaul of an ailing G20 economy.

Macri has so far managed to push through a painful reform programme with the help of allies, despite having only 87 seats in the 257-seat lower house of Congress and 15 of 72 senate seats.

Argentina’s TN television projected Cambiemos to gain 21 seats to take their representation in Congress to 108, which would be enough to deprive the opposition of a two-thirds majority to block Macri’s reforms, though still fall well short of an overall majority.

The opposition Peronist bloc was set to remain static at 145.

“Peronism has suffered a fall in the vote,” according to analyst Mariel Fornoni.

Aside from Buenos Aires province and city, Cambiemos candidates also polled strongly across the other major electoral centres – Cordoba, Mendoza and Santa Fe.

Half of the Congress seats and a third of the Senate’s were being contested in Sunday’s vote.

Kirchner’s campaign pitch has been to promise to “put the brakes on” Macri’s cuts in tariffs on agricultural exports, deficit spending and loosening of labour laws.

Macri appealed to voters to “not return to the past,” attacking his predecessor’s populist policies.

Kirchner has been prosecuted for alleged corruption in office, but she insists she is the victim of political persecution.