Peronists set to retake power in Argentina after primary win

President Mauricio Macri suffers crushing defeat ahead of October presidential elections

Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, currently a vice-presidential candidate, casting her vote in Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz province on Sunday. Photograph: Walter Diaz/AFP/Getty Images

Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, currently a vice-presidential candidate, casting her vote in Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz province on Sunday. Photograph: Walter Diaz/AFP/Getty Images

 

Argentina’s populist Peronist movement is poised for a spectacular return to power later this year after it registered a crushing victory in an election on Sunday.

In nationwide primaries that serve as the best gauge of voter sentiment ahead of presidential elections in October, Alberto Fernández, whose running mate is the controversial former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, registered 47.6 per cent of voting intentions for the presidency compared to just 32 per cent for President Mauricio Macri.

Speaking on Sunday night as results came in, a visibly shaken Mr Macri promised to work tirelessly to reverse the result in October, but should the Peronist ticket repeats its performance in two months’ time Mr Fernández will be elected president on the first round.

Sunday’s survey of voter intentions shows the depths of frustration at the failure of Mr Macri, the first non-populist politician elected president in Argentina in a century, to delivery on lofty promises to launch a cycle of virtuous growth by leaving behind decades of ruinous policies that have turned the country into a byword for economic mismanagement.

But his efforts to simultaneously grow the economy, gently close a gaping fiscal deficit and tame rampant inflation proved overly ambitious. His plan was eventually undone by a currency crisis last year that left him needing a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which is widely loathed by swathes of Argentine society for its role in a number of the country’s previous economic crises.

Floundering economy

Mr Macri has always counted on backing from markets even as some economists questioned the logic of his economic plan, which, despite praise from investors, has left the economy in recession, unemployment high and inflation roaring at 55.8 per cent.

Such was the scale of the inflation problem that the government, though devoted to liberalising the closed, highly regulated economy, earlier this year had to introduce a price control regime of the type usually associated with the country’s populist past.

Investors responded to Sunday’s results with a wave of selling that saw the local peso crash against the dollar and billions knocked off the value of Argentine assets as investors feared the return of the Peronists, and in particular Ms Kirchner, to power.

Though her former minister Mr Fernández heads the ticket, she is widely viewed as the main political force behind it. During eight years in power she squandered a historic boom in prices for the country’s agricultural produce on populist giveaway policies that won her enduring affection among many Argentines, especially the poor in the rust belt around the capital Buenos Aires.

By the time she left office in 2015 the country was mired in recession, running out of hard currency and printing pesos to cover government spending. But on Sunday many voters seemed unconcerned by this record or the fact she is facing multiple accusations of wrongdoing related to her time in office.