Argentines on Sunday elected a new president in a vote that could signal the beginning of important political and economic shifts in Latin America.
Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s presidential runoff, bringing an end to the country’s 12-year political dynasty dominated by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. His victory marks a significant political pivot, as Argentines voted in a center-right millionaire businessman to succeed the outgoing Fernandez, a fiery and polarizing populist whose political movement rose to power along with a wave of left-leaning leaders in South America.
Among them were former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. Together with Fernandez’s predecessor, her husband, late former President Nestor Kirchner, the leaders represented what is known as South America’s “pink tide.”
But now the tide could be receding.
Here are 5 reasons why Argentina’s election matters:
1.) Reverberations in Venezuela
Venezuelans watched Argentina’s election closer than most. On the campaign trail, Macri vowed to push for Venezuela’s suspension from South America’s trade bloc Mercosur due to alleged human rights abuses under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Few other Latin American leaders have publicly criticized Maduro, which is why opposition leaders in Venezuela are hailing Macri’s victory as a win for them, too. Venezuela’s opposition hopes he’ll help bring Maduro’s government under closer scrutiny, but that remains to be seen. Argentina’s election comes only weeks before Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela, where the opposition will try to use Macri’s momentum to win the National Assembly for the first time in more than 15 years.
2.) The economy is going out with the pink tide
For many of Latin America’s pink-tide leaders, the end of the region’s economic boom has unleashed significant political challenges. Argentina’s economy has sputtered in recent years, contributing to Kirchner’s defeat at the ballot box. In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s hand-picked successor, is reeling from a corruption scandal and an economic recession. Venezuela’s economy is also in the doldrums, and next month’s elections will show if Maduro pays a political price.
3.) A generational changing of the guard
Macri’s victory underscores an important generational shift in Argentine politics. Many of his party’s key lawmakers and politicians were young during the country’s brutal 1976-83 military dictatorship, which had a strong Cold War undercurrent. Issues from that era still linger and influence the country’s politics.
But Macri’s wing will usher in a new group of political leaders who were largely formed after Argentina’s return to democracy.
4.) The soccer of politics
There’s always been a thin line boundary between soccer and politics in Argentina. But Macri crosses that line. As the former team president (1995-2007) of one of Argentina’s most popular soccer clubs, Boca Juniors, Macri led the team to dozens of national and international titles. Boca’s success on the soccer pitch helped launch Macri’s political career as a candidate for an upstart party in a country long dominated by traditional ones. His electoral victory came only weeks after Boca won Argentina’s first-division championship.
5.) Wall Street sighs in relief
Argentina’s election was also being closely followed on Wall Street. Fernandez has been locked in a long-running legal battle with several U.S. hedge funds that are suing the country for full payment on some of Argentina’s defaulted debt. The legal maneuvering has led to moments of high drama, including the brief seizure of an Argentine naval ship when it docked in Africa three years ago.
Macri has vowed to negotiate with the hedge funds, which are known as “holdout” creditors.