Argentine leader urges voters to defend gov't in runoff vote

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2015 10:31 PM
Argentine leader urges voters to defend gov't in runoff vote

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — In her first public comments since her party's lackluster election performance, President Cristina Fernandez touted her government's accomplishments Thursday night and urged Argentines to defend them in the presidential runoff election next month.

Fernandez used a late night speech to remind Argentines of steps taken by her left-of-center administration, among them the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas and the YPF oil company, social welfare programs for the poor and free education in public universities.

She warned her supporters that those accomplishments are "not irreversible" and said voters need to stand up for them in the Nov. 22 runoff between her party's standard-bearer and an opposition candidate.

"Some people believe a runoff is choosing between Juan or Jose," said Fernandez, whose voice became hoarse toward the end of a public engagement that totaled four hours. "We are not just electing a president, but a president who also represents a political model for the country."

Yet Fernandez didn't mention by name the man she tapped to run as the governing party's candidate for president, Daniel Scioli, governor of the Buenos Aires province. Scioli garnered 37 percent of the votes in Sunday's six-candidate presidential election, compared to 34 percent for the second-place finisher, Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires city. The tight finish forced a second round, in which Scioli's chances for victory are uncertain.

Macri has promised to maintain a safety net for the poor while also making major reforms, like lifting currency restrictions, attracting foreign investment and solving a long-standing dispute with creditors in the U.S. who have taken Argentina to court.

Scioli was notably absent Thursday night, which began with Fernandez inaugurating the opening of a center to study infectious diseases and then progressed into a political rally. Scioli's running mate, Carlos Zannini, a close Fernandez loyalist, was present.

Rumors about a rupture between Fernandez and Scioli became so strong this week that Scioli felt compelled to deny them Wednesday, saying that he spoke with the president "often" and "when necessary."

Throughout the campaign, Scioli tried to present himself as both the continuation of Fernandez's policies and his own man who will fix anything that is broken. He bristles at suggestions that if he won his administration would really be run by Fernandez, who is the South American nation's most dominant politician.

Fernandez is loved, especially by lower and middle-class people who feel she has given them a voice and directed programs to help them, but she is also loathed by many Argentines for widespread allegations of corruption in her administration, the country's economic ills and her fights with other nations and creditors that many see as unnecessary.

The president did little to ease concerns that her party is fractured. Her address wasn't just far from a full-throated endorsement of Scioli, but also often had the feel of a victory lap or goodbye speech.

She bragged about her accomplishments, at one point saying, "What more can I ask for?" after declaring that she had been the president who got the most votes since Juan Peron, the three-time president and founder of the Peronist movement aligned with the working class.

As she often does, Fernandez invoked her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, who was her predecessor as president. She talked about lifting the nation after the financial meltdown in 2001-2002, when Argentina defaulted on $100 billion in debt and millions of middle-class Argentines were impoverished overnight.

Noting the day the next administration takes office, Fernandez said: "I'm not a candidate for anything. On Dec. 10, I'll be going home."

But she did make clear she won't be going away.

"Know this," she told thousands of onlookers, who waved flags and kept encouraging her to continue. "I won't be president Dec. 10, but I will always be there for the people when I'm needed."