Argentina: Cristina Kirchner makes history as she's re-elected president in landslide
PRESIDENT Cristina Kirchner celebrated a landslide re-election victory in Argentine elections today as voters credited her unconventional policies for a long economic boom.
The result marks a dramatic change of fortunes for a leader who some critics once said might have to leave power early as angry protests by farmers and middle-class voters battered her approval ratings soon after she took office.
With votes in from 96pc of polling stations, Mrs Kirchner had almost 54pc of the vote with a massive lead of 36 percentage points over her nearest rival, socialist candidate Hermes Binner.
No Argentine leader has won such a big share of the vote since General Juan Domingo Peron was elected for the third time with 62 per cent in 1973.
"I'm the first woman to be re-elected president. I don't want anything more," the centre-left politician said in an emotional speech in Buenos Aires.
The victory, celebrated by thousands of blue and white flag-waving supporters in front of the pink presidential palace, gave Mrs Kirchner the strongest mandate for an Argentine president since the end of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
"I'm impressed by the figures and infinitely grateful," Mrs Kirchner said. "If we'd spoken of these figures barely two years ago, they'd have thought we were mad!"
The 58-year-old incumbent has risen in the polls since losing a fierce battle with soya farmers over taxes in 2008, aided by high prices for farm exports in the vast nation of 40 million.
She pushed forward with popular social programs started by her husband when he took office in 2003, including for pensions and child benefit as well as subsidies for transport and utilities.
Nestor Kirchner had been expected to stand for another four-year term before he died.
"He's here more than ever," mrs Kirchner said Sunday, also thanking a string of Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for their support.
Nestor Kirchner was credited with lifting the country out of its financial meltdown of 2001 by restructuring massive debts and promoting spending.
He cut off talks with the International Monetary Fund after Argentina defaulted on almost $100bn in foreign debts.
Glamorous and known for her sharp tongue, Mrs Kirchner has shown a more consensual style, making efforts to improve relations with key sectors like industry and agriculture.
She needed just 40pc to win if her nearest rival was more than 10 points behind, or 45pc for an outright win.
The difference between her and her main rival was "historic," according to analyst Rosendo Fraga, from the New Majority institute.
Socialist Binner also celebrated however, after a first victory for his political movement over Argentina's radical party.
Media reports said Mrs Kirchner had also won back control of the Congress, where 130 seats were at play and kept control of the senate, where 24 seats were being disputed.
Kirchnerism belongs to the diverse and powerful Peronist movement of three-time former president Juan Peron and his populist second wife Evita.
Many Argentines see Mrs Kirchner's policies as the safest bet for the economy amid uncertainty in Europe and the United States.
"I think it's the best we've got. Human beings have a right for basic help from the government, like pensions," said 63-year-old teacher Monica Bietti, after she voted in a Buenos Aires school.
Mrs Kirchner's divided opponents failed to convince voters they could do more to reduce runaway inflation - which independent analysts estimate at almost 25pc per year, more than double the official figures.
Mr Binner has warned that Argentina, which relies heavily on exports to Brazil and China, will soon feel the effects of the global crisis, as growth is expected to slow down next year.