Argentines set out on new political course
It was a thunderous victory - totally unexpected by just about everyone here, including Raul Alfonsin, the victor. ''We were prepared for a narrow win,'' President-elect Alfonsin says, ''but nothing like this.''
Yet with the votes still being tallied at time of writing, he had won the presidency by more than a 13/4 million votes - holding 52 percent of the vote, compared with 40 percent for his chief opponent. Mr. Alfonsin's Radical Party also appears to have swept up congressional, provincial, and municipal posts across the nation.
The massive win seems to show the Argentine electorate has a strong desire for new leadership and new ideas after 71/2 years of military rule and nearly 40 years of Peronist domination of civilian politics.
For the long-dominant Peronista party, it was a stunning upset, raising questions about the future of the party formed by Juan Domingo Peron.
In the wake of Sunday's balloting, there were hints that the Peronistas were splintering. Labor leaders within the movement openly and scathingly attacked the movement's political leadership. But it was too early to talk definitely about the Peronista future.
No one here expects the Peronistas to take defeat quietly, however, and the President-elect's ability to come to grips with Argentina's staggering political , economic, and social problems will depend in some measure on Peronista cooperation.
Radical Alfonsin inherits a nation with inflation raging at almost 1,000 percent a year, a whopping and possibly unpayable $40 billion foreign debt, and an export trade based largely on fickle commodities. The Argentine people, it seems, reel from one economic crisis to another.
Traditionally a middle-class nation, Argentina today is slowly slipping toward the so-called third world of less developed nations.
But the majority of Argentines seem to be attracted to the Alfonsin goal of government modeled after West European social democratic ideas. They appear to favor this to the traditional Peronista concept of a government based heavily on labor and favoring the labor unions. Both parties, however, tried to broaden their political bases of support in the election campaign - with Alfonsin trying to reach beyond the middle class and to labor and the Peronistas trying to woo the middle class.
Besides Argentina's economic tumult, Alfonsin faces a tough decision on how to handle the military. Before the election, the military granted an amnesty to all military men involved in any human rights abuses during the 1970s, when thousands of Argentines were killed and thousands more simply vanished in what was described as a war against leftist terrorists. Alfonsin, however, favors prosecution of the military for human rights abuses.
Other factors in the stunning Alfonsin victory seem to be a last-minute swing of undecided voters toward Alfonsin and a surge of some 5 million people new to the voting rolls toward the Radical candidate.
The last opinion polls, taken within two days of the election, had suggested that the two key candidates, Mr. Alfonsin and Italo Argentino Luder, were running almost neck and neck, with 40 percent of the electorate each. So the shifts appear to have taken place only at the last minute.
What was clear, however, was the Peronistas' utter surprise at the defeat of their candidate, Mr. Luder. The Peronistas had played the key role in Argentine politics for so long - even when military governments here kept them off the ballot - that their loss caught them totally off guard.
''This was not the scenario for this election, in their view,'' said J.Iglesias Rouco, a columnist for La Prensa.
In what was obviously a conciliatory gesture to the Peronistas, Alfonsin told this reporter, ''We have won and won big, but we have not defeated anyone.''
The electorate also turned back the presidential bids of 10 other candidates, according them less than 5 percent of the vote. That in itself represented a stunning defeat of the 10, who had made determined bids to play significant roles in forming a new government.
The military is now stepping down - demoralized and deflated. But few observers think the military will go away with little more than a whimper. It will be sitting in the wings watching the Alfonsin government for the first sign of political or economic mistake - and perhaps preparing for a return to government.