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Argentina elects new Peronist president amid economic crisis

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By Reuters
Supporters of Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez celebrate his victory in Argentina
Supporters of Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez celebrate his victory in Argentina   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Argentina's Peronists have swept back into power, electing Alberto Fernandez president in an election result that shifts the country firmly back toward the left amid an economic crisis.

Peronist had 47.79% of the vote, ahead of conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri's 40.71%, with more than 90% of ballots counted, putting the center-left challenger over the 45% threshold to avoid a runoff and win the election outright.

Macri conceded the race and congratulated Fernandez. He said he had invited Fernandez to the presidential palace on Monday to discuss an orderly transition, seen as essential for Argentina's shaky economy and markets.

Fernandez, speaking afterwards alongside running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, said he would meet Macri and collaborate with the outgoing leader "in any way we can".

"The times ahead are not easy," he told cheering supporters at his election party. "But of course we will collaborate in everything we can, because the only thing that concerns us is that Argentines stop suffering once and for all."

Raucous crowds cheered at Fernandez's election headquarters, with the mood far more muted across the city at Macri's election camp, even though his "Together for Change" coalition performed much more strongly than many polls had expected.

"This resounding victory in the first round is a very clear expression of the Argentine people," said Felipe Solaj, one of Fernandez's closest advisers with the "Front for All" party.

Fernandez had been the heavy favorite since winning a landslide victory in primaries in August. He extended that lead in pre-election opinion polls.

"Alberto has won it and I am super happy. We spent four very hard years," Paola Fiore, a 35-year-old public employee, told Reuters at Fernandez's election base. "The excitement and expectations we have are because we know that a government that thinks about the people is back."

The vote will have far-reaching implications. Argentina is one of the world's top grain exporters, is stirring the energy world with its huge Vaca Muerta shale field and is on the cusp of restructuring talks with creditors over $100 billion in debt.

Latin America's third-largest economy has been in the grip of recession for most of the past year, with the outlook for growth darkening, annual inflation above 50%, job numbers down and poverty up sharply.

Macri won backers with plans to reform Argentina's notoriously closed economy with trade deals and a successful push to lure foreign investment into energy projects and infrastructure.

However, his reform plans were badly hit in 2018 when a currency and debt crisis forced him to strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund for an eventual $57 billion to help Argentina pay its bills.