Argentine first lady Cristina Kirchner has won a mandate to take over from her husband as president, according to a near-complete count yesterday of ballots from a weekend election.
Kirchner, a 54-year-old senator, had not even waited for the final results before triumphantly telling her supporters just hours after Sunday's poll: "We have won by a large margin."
Yesterday's tally of ballots from virtually all the country's polling stations -- 96 percent -- showed she had won 44.9 percent of the vote, nearly double that of her nearest rival.
That was enough for her to be declared the outright victor without the need for a run-off.
She is due to take office on Dec. 10, succeeding her husband Nestor Kirchner, 57, who is stepping down after just one four-year term without explanation.
"We congratulate her and recognize her victory," said the second-placed candidate, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio.
She had 23 percent of the vote, according to the latest count.
Roberto Lavagna, a former economy minister sacked two years ago by Nestor Kirchner, came in third with 16.9 percent. Eleven other candidates trailed behind. The first lady was the favorite going into the elections.
Her support largely came from Argentina's poor, whose ranks swelled in the wake of a 2001 economic crisis that saw the country become the biggest defaulter of sovereign debt in history.
The current president presided over impressive recovery of the economy during his term. Growth has brushed 9 percent a year and unemployment has fallen.
Observers say Cristina Kirchner will be tested as she confronts the high inflation, rising crime and low foreign investment threatening her country's recovery.
"She will find it a very different challenge than that during her husband's term," said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Washington think tank The Dialogue.
A steely lawyer who got a taste of executive power during her husband's term in office, Fernandez has frequently been compared to Hillary Clinton, the US lawyer, senator, former first lady and presidential hopeful.
Nestor Kirchner's Front for Victory party was also set to seize a majority in the legislative Chamber of Deputies and hold the Senate in a simultaneous vote on Sunday, while his allies won governorships in eight provinces, officials said.