Opposition candidate Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday, marking an end to the left-leaning and often combative era of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who along with her late husband dominated the country’s political scene for 12 years and rewrote its social contract.
Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli, Fernandez’s chosen successor, conceded late Sunday and said he had called Macri to congratulate him on a victory that promises to chart Argentina on a more free market, less state interventionist course.
“Today is a historic day,” said Macri, addressing thousands of cheering supporters as horns were heard blaring across Buenos Aires. “It’s the change of an era.”
With 75 percent of the vote counted, Macri had 53% support compared to 47% for Scioli.
The 56-year-old former chairman of Boca Juniors football club is expected to be Argentina’s most economically liberal president since the 1990s and has vowed to ease foreign trade and dollar restrictions.
Cheering, dancing crowds of Macri’s supporters celebrated at a conference center on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, waving multicolored balloons and white and sky-blue Argentine flags.
Scioli conceded defeat, telling supporters: “By popular will, a new president has been elected: Mauricio Macri.”
Macri climbed in the polls after losing closely in the first round vote on October 25 to Scioli, an ally of Kirchner.
That result forced Argentina’s first ever presidential runoff.
Macri has capitalized on discontent among voters who said they were fed up after 12 years of rule by Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
With social welfare programs and protectionist economic policies, they won affection among poorer Argentines and mistrust among foreign investors.
Macri has vowed to free up trade, liberalize the economy and negotiate with Argentina’s foreign debtors.
His victory will break the grip of Peronism, the broad populist movement that has dominated Argentine politics for much of the past 70 years.
“We have lived too long with Peronism,” said Luis Nizzo, an 81-year-old retired engineer, after voting for Macri at a school in Buenos Aires. “This has been the most corrupt government in Argentina’s history.”
But Guillermo Juarez, 25, said he voted for Scioli “because of everything they say about Macri — that he will take away support for working people and cut social welfare programs.”
Voting earlier, Macri told a crowd of reporters and supporters: “It is a historic day that will change our lives.”
Scioli said that Macri’s proposals threatened Argentines’ welfare payments, salaries and industry.
He called on voters to “choose the best path for social, economic and political stability,” after casting his ballot.
The increasingly tense campaign was fought on shifting political ground in the vast South American nation of 42 million people.
Macri proposed to immediately lift restrictions on imports and on US dollars. Scioli warned that would trigger a brutal devaluation of the peso, weakening ordinary Argentines’ incomes.
Analysts say Macri may struggle to push his reforms through a hostile Congress.
His rise raised hopes among financiers, but fears among domestic businesses and poorer Argentines who have benefited from the social and trade policies of the combative outgoing president.
Earlier this year outgoing president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was cleared by prosecutors of helping to shield Iranian officials allegedly behind the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.
Javier De Luca, prosecutor before the Court of Appeals, said there wasn’t enough evidence in late prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s investigation to warrant a probe.
Nisman had alleged Iranian officials ordered the bombing via Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. He later concluded that a 2013 deal between Argentina and Iran for the suspects to be investigated by a joint commission was a conspiracy designed to ensure they would never be brought to justice.
In January he filed a report accusing Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other figures close to the government of protecting high-ranking Iranian officials, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for oil and trade benefits.
Four days later, on January 18, the prosecutor was found dead in his bathroom with a bullet through the head.
Since Nisman’s death, initially labeled a suicide, suspicion has fallen on Kirchner’s government of orchestrating his murder.
The president suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.