BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the wife of Argentina’s president, Nestor Kirchner, appeared poised late yesterday to become the first woman to be elected president of the country and part of a new political dynasty in the South American country.
Mrs. Kirchner, 54, the center-left Peronist party candidate and a senator, was leading in early official results over Roberto Lavagna, a former finance minister, and Elisa Carrio, a center-left congresswoman. If Kirchner wins 45 percent of the vote, she will avoid a runoff.
The election was marred when rival candidates accused her party of “systemic theft” of ballots and other voting irregularities.
If she is elected as expected, Kirchner would become the second woman to be elected leader of a South American nation in two years, after Michelle Bachelet, who became Chile’s president last year.
In a victory speech late Sunday, Kirchner said she felt a “double responsibility, not just for all Argentines, but an immense responsibility for my gender.” In her speech she also paid homage to her husband’s accomplishments. Mr. Kirchner, who sat behind her, stood up as supporters chanted “Nestor, Nestor,” and raised his wife’s arm.
More than anything, Kirchner’s victory would serve as a referendum on the four years under her husband, who steered Argentina out of its worst economic crisis in 2001, when the country defaulted on some $80 billion in loans from multilateral lending groups like the International Monetary Fund.
Argentina’s economy is poised this year to record a sixth straight year of growth averaging about 8 percent. It is riding a wave of higher prices for some of its principal exports – soybeans, corn and meat – and has increased its reserves and lowered unemployment and inflation.
While voters appeared to favor a continuation of Nestor Kirchner’s policies, the next president faces the challenge of taming double-digit inflation and a looming energy crisis.
Despite his approval ratings of more than 60 percent, Kirchner decided in July not to run for re-election, in what many analysts believe is a strategy to rotate the couple through the Pink House, the presidential palace here, for the next 12 years. Argentine election law allows a former president to run again after waiting four years on the sidelines.
Cristina Kirchner grew up in La Plata, a city once known as “Eva Peron City,” the birthplace of the beloved wife and powerful first lady of Gen. Juan Domingo Peron. She was born seven months after Eva Peron, who was known by millions as Evita, died of cancer.
Kirchner is the daughter of Eduardo Fernandez, a second-generation Argentine from a Spanish family, who ran a fleet of municipal buses in La Plata, and of Ofelia Wilhelm, a strong-willed woman who supported the Peronists, according to Olga Wornut, the author of “Reina Cristina,” a study of the first lady.
The Kirchners met in law school in La Plata, where they were student activists involved in the Peronist movement. They later moved to Mr. Kirchner’s home province of Santa Cruz, in Patagonia, where she was elected a senator before her husband began his own political career.
Early in her political career, Kirchner was nicknamed “Queen Cristina” by other politicians, a reference to her controlled personality. Facing a fractured opposition in the current election, she campaigned lightly, spending much of the past two months traveling in Europe and the United States trying to woo foreign investors and making clear that, if elected, she would seek to improve Argentina’s standing abroad.
Argentina under Nestor Kirchner has embraced the notion of regional integration and has benefited from a stronger relationship with Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who agreed to refinance $5 billion of Argentina’s debt.
Despite her apparent victory, several rival candidates Sunday reported voter irregularities in some Peronist strongholds. “Each time a citizen went to vote, the voting authority at the table said there aren’t ballots for your party,” Patricia Bullrich, the campaign chief for Carrio, said in an interview. “They said, ‘OK, you still have to vote. Vote for a blank slate, but you have to vote.”‘
Bullrich singled out La Matanza, an industrial town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but also said that ballot theft had occurred throughout the province of Buenos Aires.
Argentine political analysts called the charges exaggerated. Many of the irregularities likely resulted from the disorganization of political parties, said Julio Burdman, an analyst here. “In this election, the organization of the opposition parties was as weak as never before.”