Argentine president dominates unusual primary vote

August 14, 2011 - 9:59 PM
APTOPIX Argentina Elections

ALTERNATIVE CROP OF VC102 - Argentina's President and candidate for re-election Cristina Fernandez waves to supporters after the announcement of preliminary results of the primary elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday Aug. 14, 2011. Exit polls show Fernandez with more than 45 percent of the vote against nine rivals in the country's first-ever open and simultaneous presidential primary ahead of the presidential election scheduled for Oct. 23. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez got nearly half the votes against a divided opposition in Sunday's primary, giving her re-election campaign a feeling of invincibility.

Three of the nine other candidates were battling for second place in Argentina's first-ever open and simultaneous presidential primary.

Fernandez had 49 percent of the votes, Dep. Ricardo Alfonsin had 13 percent, former President Eduardo Duhalde 12 percent and Socialist Santa Fe Gov. Hermes Binner 10 percent with 30 percent of the polling places reporting.

The results suggest that unless the opposition unites around a single candidate, Fernandez has a very good chance of winning re-election. The winner on Oct. 23 must get at least 45 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, or more than 40 percent with a 10 percentage point lead over the second-place finisher in a race with multiple candidates.

In her victory speech, Fernandez referred to the looming global economic crisis and said politicians must ensure Argentina remains independent.

"We have to not only take care of our political democracy, but our economic democracy as well," she said.

She also praised voters for what she called an historic advance in Argentina's democracy. The idea of the open, simultaneous and obligatory primary was meant to force parties to allow voters to choose candidates for president and vice president.

Instead, all the parties simply proclaimed their candidates months ago. That turned the primary into a kind of nationwide political survey, since voting is mandatory in Argentina and voters could choose any candidate in the primary irrespective of party.

In a society as deeply polarized as Argentina's, where both the ruling party and a fractured opposition have long claimed to represent what most citizens want, the election also gave voters a chance to show exactly where their sympathies lie.

Having voted their hearts on Sunday, this logic goes, Argentines should feel free to vote with their heads when it counts on Oct. 23. But Fernandez's rivals have attacked each other so relentlessly that it may be difficult for them to come together.

"The serious campaign begins now. I'm sure we can win the elections in October," Alfonsin said.

"We are going to be in the second round in October," vowed Duhalde, also showing no signs of conceding.

Turnout was about 75 percent of the nation's 29 million voters, who faced fines and bureaucratic hassles if they failed to cast ballots.

Among the other candidates, San Luis Gov. Alberto Rodriguez Saa got 8 percent, Dep. Elisa Carrio got 3 percent, leftist Jorge Altamira got 3 percent and the others failed to get the 1.5 percent necessary to appear on October's ballot.