Argentine opposition leader wins presidential election
October 25, 1999
From staff and wire reports
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The candidate of Argentina's ruling Peronist Party conceded defeat late Sunday as opposition leader Fernando de la Rua took a wide lead in Argentina's presidential elections.
"The trend is already clear, and I come to salute you ... as president-elect of all Argentines," said de la Rua, the candidate of the center-left Alliance coalition.
With more than 85 percent of the ballots counted early Monday, Eduardo Duhalde, the governor of Buenos Aires Province, had claimed only 37.7 percent of the vote in his bid to succeed the Peronist incumbent, President Carlos Menem. Eight other candidates took the remainder of the vote.
"People chose change," Duhalde said. "They thought the Alliance represented that change, and I want to salute the new president."
De la Rua, the 62-year-old mayor of Buenos Aires, called it "a triumph for everybody" and said he had already received a phone call from Menem, who "congratulated me for winning."
Television and radio exit polls aired moments after voting ended at 6 p.m. local time (5 p.m. EDT) awarded de la Rua a big enough win over the Peronists, who have been in power for 10 years, to avoid a second-round runoff.
De la Rua told jubilant supporters in Buenos Aires that after taking office on December 10, he would work to "recuperate Argentina's dignity" and provide "more work, education and health for all."
Streets in Buenos Aires were filled with cars honking horns as de la Rua supporters toasted the results of the exit poll, one of two showing a similar big victory for the city's mayor.
De la Rua himself had expressed confidence throughout the day. "We did our campaign job," he said while casting his vote Sunday.
Menem, who voted in his native La Rioja Province, had scoffed earlier at campaign polls suggesting his ruling Peronist party was headed for a resounding defeat in the presidential ballot.
"If I had been permitted to run, I am sure I would have won. But I still have time for a future presidential election," said Menem before flying back to the capital.
Menem had flirted with seeking an unprecedented third straight term, but was barred by a constitutional prohibition and has said he will run again in 2003. A win for de la Rua means the end 10 years of unbroken Peronist Party rule in the fourth national election since Democracy was restored in 1983.
De la Rua, a fiscal conservative, has said he will crack down on graft and corruption while Duhalde said more needs to be done to combat an economic recession that has resulted in double-digit unemployment.
Both candidates have said they would keep the peso pegged to the U.S. dollar, a policy credited with keeping inflation at bay.
Meanwhile, with Peronist hopes for retaining the presidency dashed, much of the interest surrounding the polling has focused on the governorship of Buenos Aires, where about one-third of Argentines live. An Alliance president would have a difficult time governing without the support of the region.
The Peronists have a majority in the Senate, not up for grabs in Sunday's election, and a strong vote in the House. Vice President Carlos Ruckauf, a Peronist, and human rights campaigner Graciela Fernandez Meijide, of the Alliance, have fought a bitter battle for the governor's slot, and analysts said the race was too close to call at the finish line.
Mexico City Bureau Chief Harris Whitbeck and Reuters contributed to this report.
Opposition mayor favored for Argentine presidency in Sunday ballot
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