Argentina’s primary elections on Sunday set the stage for a tight race in the October presidential vote that will bring an end to eight years of rule by the leftist government of President Cristina Fernández.
Early results showed Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province backed by the ruling Peronist party, had won 36.5 per cent of the vote, while the opposition alliance led by Mauricio Macri, the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, had gained 31.4 per cent, with 40 per cent of the ballots counted.
Each party chose its presidential candidate in the primary but, with voters free to cross party lines, Sunday’s vote was seen as a dry run for the October election.
Analysts said the close result raised the likelihood of a second-round run-off vote in November. In order to win outright, the leading candidate needs 45 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10 point margin over the runner-up.
The tight result allowed each of the leading candidates to claim victory, with Mr Scioli boasting that he had won the most votes and the opposition highlighting that the majority had voted against the ruling party and wanted change as Argentines complain of a stagnant economy and high inflation.
“Argentina has found a way. It is evident that with this result there is a clear will to continue advancing towards a great future,” Mr Scioli told supporters, praising Ms Fernández and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, for whom he was vice-president. Nevertheless Mr Scioli, who chose one of Ms Fernández’s closest advisers as his running mate, added that he would “change what needs changing”.
Markets are likely to welcome the prospect of a second round, since it would be good news for the business-friendly Mr Macri, who has promised wholesale change. His top priorities include axing currency and trade controls, and reaching a quick solution with “holdout” creditors who are blocking Argentina’s access to international capital markets.
The result of a run-off would depend to a large extent on the votes of Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist whose coalition came third in the primaries with 21.4 per cent. It remains unclear whether Mr Scioli or Mr Massa would benefit more from Mr Massa’s votes in a second round.
“Tonight an alternative has been consolidated,” Mr Macri told supporters. “We have to unite, because united we are more.”
About 32m people were eligible to vote in the elections, which were marred by heavy rain, especially around Buenos Aires, the capital. The elections will also see half of the chamber of deputies and a third of the senate renewed, as well as several provincial governors.