Buoyed by historic win, Argentina President Kirchner recommits to 'national project'

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took 54 percent of Sunday's vote compared to just 17 percent by her nearest rival – the largest victory margin in Argentine history.

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    Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner flashes a victory sign Sunday after winning the nationwide presidential election in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mrs. Kirchner swept to a landslide re-election victory, crowning a comeback that seemed unthinkable for much of her turbulent first term.
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Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner swept to a historic victory in Sunday’s national elections, gaining a second term in office in which she promises to continue "developing the national project"and maintain Argentina's current economic boom.

Less than two hours after the polls closed at 6 p.m. Buenos Aires time, national media networks were declaring the Peronist leader a clear winner, well ahead of nearest rival Hermes Binner, the Socialist governor of Santa Fe Province.

Official figures showed Mrs. Kirchner winning 54 percent of the vote with 98 percent of the ballots counted, meaning she easily crossed the threshold needed to avoid a second round runoff. Binner finished with 17 percent of the national vote, making the victory margin the largest in Argentine history.

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Third-placed Ricardo Alfonsín, from the Union for Social Development (Udeso), achieved 11 percent while the other four presidential candidates gained between 2 and 8 percent.

On top of choosing a new president, Sunday’s vote determined the makeup of the two chambers in the national Congress, as well as electing provincial governors and mayors. With her allies, Kirchner now has majorities in both houses, meaning she should be able to push through new laws with relatively little obstruction.

Kirchner made her victory speech with just 23 percent of the votes scrutinized, such was her position of strength. Striking a conciliatory tone, she called for national unity.

“These [election result] numbers are impressive,” she said from the central Buenos Aires hotel that had become her Front for Victory (FpV) headquarters. Recognizing how far her popularity has grown from its low-point in 2009, she added: “If we’d quoted these numbers a few years ago, people would have said we were mad.”

Her voice cracked when she mentioned her late husband and former President Nestor Kirchner, who died suddenly of a heart attack last year. “Without him, without his bravery and courage, it would have been impossible to arrive at this point,” she said.

With Vice President-elect Amado Boudou, wearing his trademark leather jacket, standing next to her on the stage, Kirchner gave a strong indication of where she would take the country in her final mandate. “Through willpower, through conviction, count on me to continue developing the [national] project.”

Later her presidential caravan headed to the Plaza de Mayo, the city’s main square, where she greeted thousands of activists who had gathered to celebrate.

‘Profundización del proyecto’, or developing the national project, has become one of the government’s main slogans, building on the ideas of Nestor Kirchner who came to power in 2003. He stepped aside in 2007, putting his wife forward as candidate instead.

The plan looks to stimulate the internal market – including generous subsidies and social projects – with funds generated from trade with Brazil and the currently booming commodities market. Kirchner’s victory speech showed that she had no intention of deviating from the model.

“I think Kirchner and her vice-president believe that they are on the right course and that this is what should be done,” says Arturo Porzecanski, an international finance professor specializing in emerging markets at American University in Washington, D.C. “So no change, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Kirchner’s victory speech also mentioned 2009’s controversial media law in a sign that she may reignite the simmering conflict with Grupo Clarín, the country’s largest media conglomerate, that the government wants to dilute in the name of plurality.

The president’s popularity is strongly linked to the impressive growth Argentina has enjoyed in the decade following the 2001-02 crash. But international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, warn that the economy is vulnerable.

“I believe this [economic] model isn’t sustainable if there is a profound international economic crisis,” says Miguel De Luca, co-author of Politics in the Time of the Kirchners. “But this is my belief. I’m not sure Cristina thinks in the same way.”

Kirchner, Argentina’s first elected female president, assumes her new mandate on Dec. 10. Her final term lasts until 2015.

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