Buenos Aires: Daniel Scioli, the candidate supported by Argentina`s ruling coalition, emerged Monday after primary voting as the favorite to succeed President Cristina Kirchner in the October elections.
With about 58 percent of votes in Sunday`s party primaries counted as of early Monday in this economically troubled nation, Scioli had about 36 percent.
That placed him ahead of Mauricio Macri, whose conservative party took 31 percent, although Macri himself had 24 percent. Two rivals in the party had the remaining seven percent.
All 32 million eligible voters were required to cast ballots in one of an array of competing party primaries that will shape the political landscape ahead of the October 25 presidential elections.
The peculiarly Argentine process is less about parties picking candidates than showing which candidates can garner enough votes to become Argentina`s next leader.
Scioli, 58, the governor of Buenos Aires province, is the only candidate for Kirchner`s Front for Victory (FPV).
His two top competitors are facing largely symbolic challenges within their own parties.
Second place Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, is nearly guaranteed to win the nomination for the Let`s Change coalition.
The third-place candidate, Sergio Massa -- a center-right congressman -- is likewise a virtual shoo-in for his coalition, United for a New Alternative (UNA).
Scioli welcomed the early results Sunday night.
"I feel I have arrived at this really special day after years of hard work and experience earned," he said late Sunday.
In the election on October 25, if a candidate wins 45 percent plus one vote, or 40 percent with a margin of victory of at least 10 percent, they win outright. Otherwise, there will be a run-off.The primaries marked the beginning of the end of the 12-year Kirchner dynasty -- eight under Cristina and four under her late husband, Nestor.
Kirchner is entering the final stretch of her presidency with more than 50 percent support, despite a laundry list of woes in Latin America`s third-largest economy that includes a sliding currency and a messy legal battle over defaulted debt from the country`s 2001 economic crisis.
Barred from running again by term limits, the 62-year-old is not standing for any post.
The economy has been alternating between stagnation and weak growth. Unemployment is a manageable 7.1 percent, but inflation is running at 20 percent.
"Undoubtedly the markets` biggest `friend` is Macri, and the candidate closest to the state is Scioli. But both agree on the need for investment," pollster Ricardo Rouvier told AFP.
Voters were also electing Argentine members of a regional parliamentary group, Parlasur, and candidates for gubernatorial and other local elected offices.
Argentina introduced primaries in 2009 in a bid to make candidate selection more democratic and revitalize a party system gutted by the cataclysmic fallout of the economic crisis, when the country churned through five presidents in two weeks.
But despite the new system, parties have largely continued to pick their candidates as they always have: through opaque internal processes in which the general public plays no part.
The primaries are also designed to winnow out hopeless also-rans. Parties must attract at least 1.5 percent of primary voters to be eligible for the general election.