Menem Claims Re-Election Victory
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ President Carlos Menem, whose free market reforms tamed hyperinflation and revived the Argentine economy, claimed victory Sunday in his bid for a second term.
Menem based his claim on unofficial exit polls conducted by Buenos Aires TV Channel 9, Radio Mitre and other independent media giving him a resounding 47 percent of the vote _ enough to avoid a runoff election.
Early official returns, based on 25 percent of votes, gave Menem 46.5 percent, Sen. Jose Bordon of the center-left coalition FREPASO 33.4 percent and Horacio Massaccesi of the centrist Radical Civic Union 15.75 percent. Bordon conceded defeat shortly after 11 p.m. (10 p.m. EDT).
``No government in the world has ever done as much to get a country moving as we did,″ Menem told a news conference. ``We already have pulverized hyperinflation and now we will pulverize unemployment.″
In an earlier appearance on a TV talk show, Menem attributed the victory to the fact that ``the people understood the changes″ that he and his party ``have tried to achieve.″
``We wanted a different country, a good place to live, and that’s what we have tried to accomplish,″ he said, accusing his political rivals and the media of unjustly attacking him during the campaign.
Menem, 64, who took office in 1989, campaigned on his largely successful free market reforms. Opponents pointed to the social costs of his program, including record 12.2 percent unemployment.
Menem told the state TV channel ATC that he, his estranged wife Zulema and daughter Zulemita dedicated Sunday’s victory to his son, Carlos Jr., 26, who was killed in a March 15 helicopter crash.
Fireworks lit up the sky as hundreds of banner- and flag-waving well-wishers, including soccer superstar Diego Maradona, gathered outside Government House in downtown Buenos Aires. Others, chanting victory slogans, concentrated at the Obelisk, a monument eight blocks away.
Menem needed 45 percent of the votes cast or at least 40 percent with a 10-point lead over his nearest rival to win Sunday’s election and avoid a runoff with his nearest challenger. There were 14 presidential candidates.
Also to be elected Sunday were a vice president, governors of 14 of the 23 provinces, 130 of the 258 members of the national house of deputies, provincial assemblies, mayors and municipal councils.
Presidential spokesman Guillermo Seita estimated more than 85 percent of the 22 million eligible voters had cast ballots.
It was the third time Argentines voted for a president since 1983, when the military ended seven years of harsh de facto rule, and the first under new election rules included in a constitutional reform approved last August.
The new charter replaced an electoral college with election by direct vote, reduced the presidential term from six to four years and allowed an incumbent to seek a consecutive second term.
Menem’s victory will put him in office for 10 straight years, eclipsing the record of Juan Peron, who was in power from 1946 until ousted by a 1955 coup.
During the two-month election campaign, Menem focused on the need to continue free market policies used to privatize dozens of money-losing state companies, reduce annual inflation from 5,000 percent in 1989 to 3.9 percent in 1994 and achieve four straight years of 7 percent economic growth.
Seeking support of blue collar voters, he promised to create at least 330,000 jobs a year if re-elected.
Opponents stressed the social cost of Menem’s programs, including record unemployment and discontent in interior provinces where cash-short governments have difficulty meeting payrolls.
Public debate also focused on recent admissions by military officers that the armed forces tortured and murdered opponents during the Dirty War, in which 9,000 persons disappeared and are presumed dead. Menem, who granted an amnesty to military and terrorist participants in 1990, was accused of trying to smother discussion of the war.
Menem had warned that his defeat would spell economic disaster. ``It’s me or chaos,″ he said.
Analysts said a lack of political continuity would trigger a flight of capital from Argentina just as it begins to emerge from the side effects of Mexico’s financial debacle.
The London-based brokerage Baring Securities predicted that confidence stemming from a Menem victory would send Argentine stocks soaring 20 percent and that $2.5 billion would return to the banking system. More than $7 billion was withdrawn this year for fear of a devaluation.