By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
AIRES -- The mayor of Buenos Aires, Fernando de la Rua, became the favorite
replace Carlos Saul Menem as president of Argentina by winning a landslide victory Sunday in
a primary election to carry the banner of the center-left Alianza opposition coalition in next October's
followed a primary campaign, which inspired little excitement, between
de la Rua, a
cautious politician running on his record of improving the capital's finances, and Graciela Fernandez
Meijide, a congresswoman from Buenos Aires province who promised a full-scale attack against
De la Rua appeared
to benefit from the strength of his Radical Party's political machine and
construction and tourism boom in Buenos Aires that has given the city a new image of prosperity.
De la Rua declared
victory three hours after the polls closed, pledging "a fight against corruption"
he wins the presidential election. "We want an Argentina with more jobs and more development," he
Ms. Fernandez Meijide conceded defeat and pledged to work for her opponent's election.
"I'm not going
to be a hypocrite and deny that I wish I had won," she said, "but this
vote will lead to
a reconstruction of our country."
Based on early
returns and exit polls, several television news stations projected that
de la Rua would
win more than 55 percent of the vote.
The two candidates
ran a close race in and around Buenos Aires, but de la Rua pulled away
big victory in the provinces.
golf and tango aficionado who has been a government official and politician
professional life, de la Rua ran a traditional campaign complete with a trip to Rome to be
photographed with Pope John Paul II.
experts think he would take the country in any dramatic new directions
should he take
power in early 2000.
on television before the polls closed in an ascot and double-breasted blue
he projected a cool confidence, saying, "Like any other Sunday, I'm eating lunch with my family and
going to Mass."
debates and other campaign appearances, the two candidates in the primary
went out of their way to minimize policy differences and to emphasize their desire to stay united to
defeat the governing party.
They hugged in
public and jointly endorsed the Alianza platform, which pledged to crack
corruption, take political influence out of the judicial system, and funnel more government funds into
education, job training and credits for small business.
The Alianza platform
also promised to double exports, to $50 billion a year by 2003, and to
the unemployment rate to 6 percent from the current rate of over 12 percent. But the platform did
not offer many specifics on how the goals would be accomplished.
also said that if elected they would not diverge from Menem's major economic
policies -- neither reversing his sweeping privatizations nor his one-to-one peg of the peso to the
dollar. Those actions brought Argentina's chronic hyperinflation under control and enticed a
spectacular volume of foreign investment over the last eight years.
De la Rua's Radical
Party, traditionally the party of Argentina's middle class, and Ms. Fernandez
Meijide's Frepaso, a more liberal party that broke away from the ruling Justicialist Party, cobbled
together a coalition last year and managed to gain control of the lower house of Congress in elections
last October. De la Rua has agreed to choose a member of Frepaso as his vice presidential running
of Ms. Fernandez Meijide, a 67-year-old former French teacher who is a
Goodman fan and sews her own clothes, received worldwide attention because one of her three
children was kidnapped by the security forces during the military dictatorship in 1976 and never seen
again. But while voters seemed to like her image as an outsider, she was so careful not to appear
threatening or too liberal that she stirred little enthusiasm among voters.
Sunday, she appeared as a motherly figure, stirring a pot of risotto in
kitchen. "We're going to work hard to keep the Alianza strong and united through the campaign," she
said. "We understand that the nation needs to make changes."
indicated that each of the coalition's candidates would be comfortably
Eduardo Duhalde, governor of Buenos Aires province, who is favored to win the Justicialist primary
next April. The former finance minister, Domingo Cavallo, the architect of Menem's economic
program, is running far behind on a third-party ticket, but he may play the role of the spoiler.
Party, which still carries the flag of the late President Juan Domingo
Peron and his
wife Eva, remains the largest and most powerful political force in the country. But the party is deeply
divided between Duhalde and Menem, who tried to run for re-election despite a constitutional ban.
His candidacy was blocked by party leaders.
Menem is jockeying
to remain leader of the party after he leaves office in early 2000, but
trying to block his efforts in party councils and the courts.
Duhalde is doing
his best to distance himself from Menem because of a series of scandals
implicated several Cabinet members in recent months as well as a persistently high unemployment
rate that many economists predict will go up in the coming months because of the deepening
recession in neighboring Brazil.
De la Rua and
Cavallo contend that the nation needs to reject not just Menem but also
his party, an
argument that polls indicate appears to strike a chord with a large proportion of voters.
A poll published
Sunday in Clarin, Argentina's leading circulation newspaper, indicates
that the three
issues that most concern Argentine voters are unemployment, corruption and the increase in reported
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