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World

President-Elect Promises A New Future For Argentina

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Argentina leaned rightward in its presidential election. It's one of several South American nations that have been governed in recent years from the political left. Now a newly elected president from a business family is promising a new era. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Buenos Aires.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT-ELECT MAURICIO MACRI: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In his acceptance speech last night, Mauricio Macri asked Argentines to work together to forge a new future.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MACRI: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Today, with your vote, you made the impossible possible," he said. "No one believed it would happen," he said to rapturous applause from his supporters. Indeed, Macri had been seen as a dark horse. The former mayor of Buenos Aires who's the son of a wealthy entrepreneur started as a political outsider. His movement is called Let Us Change, or Cambiemos, and radical change is indeed what he's promising. Macri is right of center and business friendly. He prefers open markets and tight budgets in order to stabilize an economy which is struggling with 30 percent inflation and a volatile currency. That stands in stark contrast with sitting President Cristina Kirchner and her late husband Nestor's interventionist economic policies and lavish public spending. Cristina Kirchner has had rough relations with the United States, among others. She's been part of a leftist coalition in Latin America that includes Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador that challenges U.S. policy in the region. Macri, on the other hand, last night signaled a change in that too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MACRI: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "We want to have good relations with all the countries," he said. Analysts say it's been Macri's conciliatory tone that attracted the votes that pushed him into the presidency.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS CHIMING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Earlier in the day, at a polling station by a church, Buenos Aires resident Roberto Lisiak told me he was voting for Macri because he was tired of all the political polarization.

ROBERTO LISIAK: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Cristina Kirchner split Argentine society," he said. "She's managed to get family and friends to fight each other. And the way she and her late husband wielded power has been morally violent," he says. He said he hopes Macri can heal what has become a very divided society. But Macri won with a narrow margin of victory. And those who voted against him worry that he will take them back to the years of financial crisis. Juan Jose Almiba is 66, and he voted for Macri's rival, Daniel Scioli.

JUAN JOSE ALMIBA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The Kirchners took the country that was broken with high unemployment and put it back on its feet," he says. "Today we have jobs. We can buy what we want. I remember what happened before," he said. "They privatized everything. And we lost everything," he says. Argentines are passionate about their politics. And you only have to walk a few feet down the street to be reminded why. There were years of brutal dictatorship here, where thousands were killed.

In front of one of the polling stations, the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, is a memorial. And it has dozens of names with dates. And it says, this is for those who were detained, disappeared and assassinated by state terrorism during the dictatorship.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT CRISTINA KIRCHNER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cristina Kirchner herself spoke of the dictatorship after she voted yesterday. She reminded people that she has long championed human rights in Argentina. It almost sounded like she was on the stump, though she is barred from reelection. Some analysts speculate that far from planning her retirement, Cristina Kirchner is plotting a return to politics in the next election cycle. What does this all mean for Macri? Martin Gendler is an analyst at a social research firm.

MARTIN GENDLER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "When you have a radical change in government like the one we are going to have now, normally they give the new leader only three to six months to see what they're going to do," he says, "before you start seeing organized opposition. In other words, Macri," he says, "needs to act fast to enact his agenda." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.