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Argentines Await National Election Results

  • Michael Bowman

Polls have closed in Argentina, where citizens voted for a new president, plus legislators and provincial governors. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Buenos Aires.

More than 20 million Argentines are believed to have cast ballots in a country where voting is compulsory for those aged 18 to 70.

The frontrunner in the presidential race, Argentina's first lady and a senator, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, cast her ballot in her hometown in the south of the country. She reminded people that it was only a few decades ago that military dictators ruled Argentina, and said that democracy must be cherished.

"When I was 18 years old, I could not vote," she said. "This is an important process that we must treasure, where citizens can decide the country's future. I come from a generation that grew up in a time where no one could decide anything, and so I especially value the chance to vote."

One opposition presidential candidate, provincial Governor Alberto Rodriguez Saa, warned of a high probability of fraud in the election, suggesting that the government of President Nestor Kirchner might attempt to rig the vote to favor the first lady, whom Mr. Kirchner chose as his successor.

But former socialist lawmaker Elisa Carrio, who polled second in pre-election surveys, warned against jumping to conclusions.

"We are going to wait and see," she said. "Once the polls close, we will know the truth and we will be able to deal with the situation in a calm and rational fashion."

Many polling stations opened late. Buenos Aires resident Matilda Gonzales stood patiently in a line that snaked around a block near the city's center.

"I am voting with great enthusiasm. That is why I am here. I am excited to vote. It is my right to do so," she said.

The campaign season featured no public debates among the presidential contenders, and opinion polls showed few of the country's 27 million eligible voters fully satisfied with the slate of candidates.

Truck driver Marco Santarelli said he only recently made up his mind as to which candidate would get his vote.

"I decided yesterday, and I am still not fully convinced," he said. "I think some people do not know who to vote for, and will make up their minds in the voting booth. During the campaign, none of the candidates had anything to say, made any proposals or put forth a platform of what they intend to do. So we are voting blind. I am voting because I have to. If it were voluntary, I would not be here."

To win outright, Cristina Fernandez would need to capture 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a 10 point lead over the second-place finisher.

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