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Do Argentine election results ensure an end to Kirchner era?

Kirchner’s party was the most popular nationally, but lost in Buenos Aires province, home to more than a third of the country’s population. Her family’s ten-year rule may be enough for Argentina.

The future of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s political model was put in serious doubt last night after opposition parties won key provinces in midterm elections.

But Ms. Kirchner’s ruling party, the Front for Victory, was still the most popular at the national level, claiming 33 percent of the vote. Supporters say it is that core vote that a fractured opposition will struggle to break when presidential elections take place in 2015.

The rise, however, of political forces in urban centers across Argentina signifies an important shift. “Argentines decided yesterday to close the Kirchners’ political cycle,” Joaquín Morales Solá, a political commentator, wrote in La Nación, a newspaper here.

Most notably, the Front for Victory lost in the province of Buenos Aires, which is home to around 15 million people, more than a third of the total population in Argentina.

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Sergio Massa, a municipal mayor who broke with Kirchner’s party in June, headed a list of candidates in that province for the opposition Renewal Front, winning convincingly. He claimed nearly 44 percent of the vote, 12 percent more than the Front for Victory.

Mr. Massa now becomes a lawmaker in the lower house of Congress from where he is expected to begin the process of launching a presidential bid. To do that, his Renewal Front needs to win over support from Peronists currently aligned with the Front for Victory.

“There will be a realignment within Peronism, and Massa, who is very acute, is going to gradually gain support,” says Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst. Hinting at his presidential aspirations and his goal to reach the entire nation, Massa told supporters last night: “These millions of votes […] oblige us to cross provincial borders and travel throughout Argentina.”  

But the opposition is still fractured nationally. Writing in Página/12, a pro-government newspaper, Mario Wainfeld, a political analyst, highlighted the fact that Argentina has “one ruling party, but many opposition parties.”

Different opposition alliances, including Massa’s Renewal Front, won in five urban centers. And on the back of victory for his center-right party, city of Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri immediately announced he would be bidding for the presidency in 2015.

“It’s going to be very difficult to change what the Kirchners have achieved nationally,” says Leandro Franchelli, a Kirchner supporter celebrating Sunday night.

Between Kirchner and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, they’ve held power since 2003, but President Kirchner is constitutionally banned from running for a third consecutive term in 2015. (It was widely believed that had she won two-thirds of Congress, Kirchner would have sought constitutional reform so that she could stand again, though she denied this.) Together with the negative election results, the limit on Kirchner’s leadership has triggered uncertainty in her party. But it has maintained a slim majority in both houses of Congress.

Massa has promised to fight high inflation, which economists put at 25 percent, and violent street crime that is believed to be on the rise. He has also called for unity and dialogue. Many people here view Kirchner as too authoritative and combative.

Voting in Tigre, the municipality where Massa is mayor, Carlos Domínguez says he voted for Kirchner in 2011, but cast his ballot this time for Massa. “Massa is the best option for the future,” Mr. Domínguez says.