BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The candidate backed by Argentina’s business-friendly president, Mauricio Macri, held a wide lead against former President Cristina Fernandez in Sunday’s race for the Senate in the bellwether province of Buenos Aires, early election results showed on Sunday.
With 50 percent of ballots counted by the interior ministry, Macri’s former education minister, Esteban Bullrich, had 42.7 percent versus 36 percent for Fernandez in the province that is home to nearly 40 percent of Argentine voters.
The race was being watched is an indicator of Macri’s ability to win a second term in 2019 and ward off a potential comeback by Fernandez.
Fernandez tied with Bullrich in the August primary but has since lagged, failing to unite the opposition. Her expected second-place showing would still grant her one of the province’s three Senate seats under Argentina’s list system.
The private sector has worried about a political resurgence by Fernandez, who is loved by millions of low-income Argentines helped by generous social spending during her presidency.
But critics say her growth-at-all-costs policies stoked inflation and distorted the economy through heavy currency controls during her 2007-2015 presidency.
Macri’s Cambiemos, or “Let’s Change” coalition, appeared on its way to winning the top five population centers of Buenos Aires City, and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santa Fe and Mendoza. The areas account for nearly 66 percent of Argentina’s electorate, according to voter registration data. No one party has won all five in a midterm vote since 1985.
Argentina’s Merval .MERV stock index and its peso currency have strengthened on bets Fernandez will not get enough support to launch a serious bid for the presidency in 2019.
Investors, particularly in Argentina’s vast agriculture sector and budding shale oil sector, have said they want to see Macri gain clout in Congress in order to push through labor and tax reforms aimed at lowing business costs in Latin America’s third biggest economy.
Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney