BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez's chosen successor easily won Argentina's open primaries, but the results Monday underscored that October's election is still up for grabs and voters remain deeply divided about who could best tackle the country's myriad economic problems.
With 98 percent of ballots counted, Daniel Scioli was leading with 38 percent of the vote. Mauricio Macri and two others in his "Let's Change" coalition topped opposition candidates with a total of 30 percent while Sergio Massa and one other aspirant on his "United for a new Alternative" ticket garnered 20 percent.
All candidates competed on the same ballot, with the top finishers from each party qualifying for the Oct. 25 general election. That meant Sunday's primaries were essentially a giant national poll.
"No matter how you look at it, the only truth is the reality," Scioli told supporters early Monday, paraphrasing famous words by former President Juan Domingo Peron, founder of the ruling political movement. "And the reality is that we have a big margin over our adversaries."
Scioli's margin would not be enough to win election in the first round, which would require either 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent and a 10-point margin over the runner-up. A November runoff would likely benefit Macri, who might pick up the votes from Argentines who initially supported other opposition candidates.
The South American nation is struggling with inflation that independent analysts put at over 30 percent and the Argentine peso has slid sharply against the American dollar. A longstanding dispute with U.S. hedge funds has kept foreign investors away.
"When are we going to finally become a serious country?" said Adrian Williams, a 51-year-old camera technician who voted for Macri. "Just look at the inflation. It's crazy."
Fernandez endorsed Scioli, the governor of the Buenos Aires province and a former vice president, but while he has praised her policies, he also promised to make reforms where necessary and be more amicable in dealings with other countries.
Macri, the former mayor of Buenos Aires and ex-president of the popular Boca Junior soccer club, has promised to attract foreign investment by making the country more business friendly and lifting restrictions on citizens' ability to buy U.S. dollars, though the government and some economists say that isn't realistic.
Two weeks ago, Macri did an about-face by saying he now supported Fernandez's state takeovers of the Aerolineas Argentinas airline and the YPF oil company. The move was widely interpreted as an acknowledgement that Macri couldn't run as an anti-Fernandez candidate when a large part of the electorate continues to support her.
Massa, who held cabinet and elective posts before breaking with Fernandez, has tried to distinguish himself by promising to jail corrupt politicians. His showing put him in a strong position to be a kingmaker or spoiler candidate.
In an interview with the Mitre radio station, Massa argued he still had a shot at the presidency but also hinted at negotiations down the line. "It's time for dialogue" on a unified program for opposition leaders, he said.
Scioli was buoyed by Fernandez's endorsement, but her blessing could be a pyrrhic victory since the polarizing leader has both a rabid following and many vociferous critics.
Fernandez is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. Her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, was elected in 2003 and served one term before she ran. The couple is widely credited with lifting Argentina after one of its worst moments, a $100 billion default in late 2001 that forced a run on the banks and wiped out the savings of many citizens.
But detractors say Fernandez's social policies have contributed to heavy inflation and criticize her combative rhetoric.
"The president talks and talks, but all she has done is leave us bankrupt," said Jorge Fernandez, 75, a flower salesman who said he was so disgusted with the political climate that he didn't vote.
Candidates were also vying for several governor and congressional races. Only candidates with at least 1.5 percent of the vote in their respective races can continue to the general elections, effectively eliminating many small-party candidates.
Associated Press writers Debora Rey and Almudena Calatrava contributed to this report.
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