MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
More politics now, this time in Argentina. Argentines voted today in the country's first-ever runoff presidential election. Two candidates are facing off in this second round of voting. We're expecting to hear the results soon, as the polls have closed for the day. And at stake is the leadership of the country with Latin America's third-largest economy. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro will tell us more. Hi, Lulu.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi there.
MARTIN: So do you want to tell us about what neighborhood you're in and what people are saying?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I'm in Buenos Aires. It's a really lovely, almost summer day here. And we've been seeing people going to the polling stations all day. The sitting president, Cristina Kirchner, she just cast her vote. And she did not stay quiet. She spoke for almost half an hour to the press, calling it a historic election which was made possible by her government's economic and political policies - so of course, campaigning to the last - even though she is not up for re-election. Her chosen successor who's running today is behind in the polls, and the people I spoke to who are going to vote for the opposition and the right-of-center candidate say they want change.
MARTIN: Tell us a little bit more about her. She has a favorite candidate in the race, so tell us a little bit about him, and then tell us about the frontrunner.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Daniel Scioli is the anointed successor of Cristina Kirchner. He's former governor of the province of Buenos Aires. He's promising continuity with Kirchner's policies. And that means, you know, social spending, spending on programs that have targeted the poor. But the fight right now is between people who want change or continuity. The right-of-center candidate is Mauricio Macri. He's the son of a wealthy construction magnate. He's the former president of a famous soccer club here. He cut his political teeth as the mayor of Buenos Aires. So what makes his candidacy so electrifying for many is that he comes from sort of outside the political ideology of Peronism. And that's been the sort of overwhelming philosophy in Argentina since the 1940s. And this really could mean that we will see some profound political changes if he wins.
MARTIN: So talk a little bit more about that. People are calling this - and you mentioned that the current president - the outgoing president - is noting how important this election is. People have been calling it the most important vote in a generation. Why is that?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You know, the Kirchners - Christina and her late husband Nestor - have been these overwhelming powers in politics in Argentina for the last twelve years. They even have sort of a movement named after them - Kirchnerism. They call her Queen Cristina here. She is just this sort of larger-than-life figure. And we now see opposition politicians in many key political positions inside Argentina for the first time in a long time, and they are right of center. So if the right of center takes the presidency, we're going to see some drastic changes, say analysts. You have to remember Argentina's economy is in trouble right now. People really remember only 15 years ago, there was a big economic crisis that plunged 60 percent of the population into poverty, so there's a lot at stake. And people are really, really concerned about the future of Argentina. And so there is a real sense that the vote matters because these two candidates represent two very different paths for the country.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, one assumes then that there are implications for U.S. policy. Can you talk a little bit about that?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, you know, Argentina under Cristina Kirchner has not had a good relationship with the United States. She's been a vocal critic. And Mauricio Macri - the right-of-center candidate who might win - he's already said that he's going to be taking a lot harder line against Venezuela and its leftist leadership, for example. And analysts say he will be a much better ally of the United States.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Buenos Aires. Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.