Fernandez Leads in Argentine Presidential Election, TN TV Says

Patrick Gillespie

(Bloomberg) -- Opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez is leading business-friendly incumbent Mauricio Macri in Sunday’s presidential race in Argentina, local TV channel TN said, citing undisclosed voting trends.

Official results are expected to be released from around 9 p.m. Local media reported earlier that a court ruled the results can only come out once the count reaches 10% in the four top districts.

More than 80% of the almost 34 million eligible voters cast ballots, Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio said on television. That’s up from more than 75% in an August primary where Fernandez had a surprisingly strong win.

For an outright victory, Fernandez needs 45% of votes, or at least 40% with a 10 percentage point lead over Macri. If not, the top two candidates would head to a runoff on Nov. 24.

The election also picks some governors -- including the influential Buenos Aires province, the country’s most populous -- and local deputies.

Macri has been on a campaign blitz in recent weeks as he seeks to regain enough support to push the election to a run-off next month. Fernandez trounced Macri by 16 percentage points in the Aug. 11 primary, effectively a giant opinion poll on the presidential ballot.

The election comes against the backdrop of an economic and currency crisis, with concern over the cost of living and access to social services. The government is seeking to re-profile more than $100 billion in debt and the chances of a sovereign default are rising.

It also comes as political risk has spread across Latin America in recent weeks, with mass unrest in Chile and Ecuador and a disputed presidential election in Bolivia.

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Accountant Rosanna Carrizo, 43, cast her vote in Buenos Aires and said the main issues for her were crime and the economy.

“I have confidence in his government, he needs another term, he can’t resolve things in so little time, so I trust giving him another term,” she said of Macri.

Macri inherited an economy damaged by years of “Peronism” under left-wing predecessor Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Peronism is a political movement that traditionally favored workers over business owners and its rhetoric is rooted in protest, anti-elitism and centered around national industry.

Macri enacted market-friendly reforms and enjoyed strong support from the U.S. But for many Argentines he failed to deliver on his promises. Inflation is over 50%, unemployment hovers above 10% and one in three live below the poverty line.

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In early 2018, the country fell into a currency crisis and then recession. Argentina suffered a historic drought, crushing its main engine for growth, commodity exports. Global market sell offs, zigzagging policies and poor communication also caused the downturn, which ended in a record $56 billion bailout by the International Monetary Fund.

Fernandez, 60, who has never served in senior office, could avoid a run-off if voters cast ballots in a similar breakdown to the primary. He has yet to provide specifics of his economic plans but he’s promised to boost salaries, make loans accessible and do away with austerity, on top of lowering interest rates and inflation -- without saying how he would fund it.

He also suggested he would tackle Argentina’s debt problem by adopting a strategy similar to that of Uruguay, which successfully extended its bond maturities in 2003.

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“We know what we have to do for Argentina to stand up,” Fernandez said in the beach-side city of Mar del Plata in his last campaign stop. “We are the essence itself of what the Argentine people want.”

If Fernandez wins it will raise questions about the role of his running mate Kirchner, who governed between 2007 and 2015. Her interventions in the economy included implementing price controls and printing money. Kirchner had taken over from her late husband Nestor Kirchner.

Hugo Colosimo, a 59 year-old worker in the information technology sector, said he had always voted for Peronist candidates and would back Fernandez.

“I never would’ve voted for Macri, he’s the worst thing that could have happened to this country," he said. “It’s a government that doesn’t govern for the people, they’re just rich businessmen that govern for themselves.”

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The prospect of swing back to a leftist government has sparked months of market volatility. Fernandez’s strong showing in the primary set off a slide in the peso which saw Macri reimpose capital controls and unilaterally extend maturities on local government debt.

Macri’s path to a runoff requires an increase in total turnout, with the extra voters supporting him and some Fernandez backers switching sides. While it’s a long shot he has drawn sizable crowds in recent weeks, crossing the country trying to keep his election hopes alive.

--With assistance from Jorgelina do Rosario.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Gillespie in Buenos Aires at pgillespie29@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Rosalind Mathieson

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