BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Conservative Horacio Rodriguez Larreta won Sunday's mayoral run-off election in Buenos Aires, in a closer race than his opposition party had hoped for in the key region ahead of presidential voting later this year.
With 99.9 percent of ballots counted, the candidate of the business-friendly PRO Party had 51.6 percent of the votes. His rival, ECO Party candidate and former economy minister Martin Lousteau, got 48.4 percent.
Rodriguez Larreta is an economist and was chief of staff for outgoing mayor and likely presidential candidate Mauricio Macri. Rodriguez Larreta won the most votes in the opening round of balloting July 5, but did not garner enough votes to avoid a run-off with Lousteau.
In his victory speech, Rodriguez Larreta thanked Macri for his work as mayor and vowed to continue improving public education, health and security for Argentina's capital city.
"I'm optimistic about the future because with Mauricio (Macri) as president, Argentina will recover its path of growth and well-being for all. And that will benefit all of the citizens of Buenos Aires as well," he said.
With Buenos Aires' 2.5 million voters accounting for nearly 8 percent of Argentina's voting population, the capital city's election was being closely watched for tendencies for the Aug. 9 presidential primaries and the Oct. 25 national election.
Both Rodriguez Larreta and Lousteau are critical of President Cristina Fernandez's leftist government. The candidate representing Fernandez's Victory Front coalition, Mariano Recalde, was knocked out of the race after finishing third in the first round July 5.
Rodriguez Larreta has said he hopes to help achieve change for all of Argentina after the 12-year rule of Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.
The PRO had been hoping for a stronger margin in the mayor's contest to give a boost for Macri's chances in the presidential race. His main rival is Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli, who has been picked by Fernandez to continue the populist policies that began with her husband's presidency. Fernandez is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
Restoring Argentina's sense of pride and sovereignty after the country's worst economic crisis in 2001 has been the central goal of Fernandez and Kirchner. The presidential couple negotiated or paid off most of Argentina's defaulted debt, nationalized the pension system, kept energy cheap through subsidies and dug deep into the treasury to redirect revenue to the poor through handouts.
But many Argentines are calling for change amid frustration with one of the world's highest inflation rates, government currency and trade controls and corruption accusations that have penetrated deep into Fernandez's inner circle.
This story has been corrected to say Fernandez's party is not represented in the run-off election.