Argentina’s leftist presidential frontrunner Alberto Fernandez surged into a strong lead over business-friendly incumbent Maurico Macri in Sunday’s election, exit polls said, though it was too early to know if he had won an outright first round victory.
Exit polls put the 60-year-old lawyer, whose running mate is ex-president Cristina Kirchner, in the lead shortly after polling closed at 6:00 pm.
Thousands of ecstatic Fernandez supporters cheered and danced outside his Frente de Todos party headquarters in Buenos Aires.
“It’s a great day for Argentina,” a smiling Fernandez told reporters.
Macri, 60, whose popularity has fallen sharply in the last year as Argentina battled recession and market turmoil, said competing “visions of the future are at stake,” in the vote.
After casting his vote in the early afternoon in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, he admitted that he was “anxiously waiting” for 9:00 pm (midnight GMT) to roll around, when the first results are expected.
The interior ministry said turnout in Sunday’s general election was over 80 percent after a campaign dominated by the crippling economic crisis affecting Latin America’s second-biggest economy.
Macri had called for a massive turnout, which analysts see as his main hope of closing the gap on Fernandez and forcing a second round.
Fernandez vowed to end sharp divisions between his Peronist movement and supporters of the business-friendly incumbent.
“The days of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are over,” the mustachioed leftist leader said after voting in the swanky Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires. “We are in an enormous crisis. Everyone has to take responsibility for what’s ahead.”
The election comes amid high tensions in the region, with massive protests in neighboring Chile and Bolivia, as well as recent unrest over inequality in Ecuador.