Argentina’s first lady elected president

? The presidency of Argentina was handed from husband to wife Sunday, as first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner crushed 13 opposition candidates on the promise of adhering to the political principles that made President Nestor Kirchner one of Latin America’s most popular leaders.

Multiple exit polls released after Sunday’s election indicated that she had received about 46 percent of the vote, enough to outdistance her nearest rival by about 20 percentage points and avoid a second-round runoff. The victory makes her the second woman to be elected president in South America in the past two years, after Chile’s Michelle Bachelet.

Fernandez de Kirchner, 54, was a nationally recognized senator before her husband was elected president in 2003. But she pegged her presidential campaign to the successes of his term, in which there were four years of strong growth following the country’s 2001 economic collapse and $100 billion debt default. She offered few concrete proposals during the electoral race, but promised to “deepen the change” that her husband’s government instituted.

Like her husband, Fernandez de Kirchner is a fiery and often combative orator whose politics are rooted in the brand of populism made famous here by former strongman President Juan Peron and his wife, Eva. Nestor Kirchner’s government steered the country away from the free-market policies of the 1990s that the Kirchners – along with a large percentage of the population – blame for the economic crisis. Fernandez de Kirchner has vowed to remain defiantly opposed to the advice of global lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

To her supporters, such declarations of economic independence – together with a long history of holding Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship responsible for human rights abuses – count as the Kirchners’ principle strengths. Fernandez de Kirchner’s campaign literature drew parallels between her and Eva Peron, who is revered here as a champion of social justice and defender of the poor.

“Cristina will lead a government that represents all of the people, but the rest of the candidates want to govern just for the elites,” said Nestor Arevalo, 38, who cast a ballot for Fernandez de Kirchner in the province of Buenos Aires on Sunday. “She has proven herself to be a fighter for human rights, and that is very important in a country with a history like ours.”

The main difference between the outgoing and incoming presidents is one of style, according to political analysts. Whereas Nestor Kirchner is often brusque with world leaders and prone to gaffes of protocol, Fernandez de Kirchner has cultivated a more diplomatic image and appears more concerned with courting foreign investment and polishing Argentina’s image abroad.

But when most people here speak about Fernandez de Kirchner’s style, they have something more superficial in mind. When she assumes office in December, the glamour quotient behind Argentina’s presidential podium will instantly, and unapologetically, soar. Reporters here write often about her generously applied mascara, the prices of her luxurious handbags and her shopping trips to designer boutiques in Paris. The apparent contradiction between her populist discourse and her reputation as a fashionista is the same one that defined Eva Peron, and Fernandez de Kirchner appears unconcerned by those who have tried to fault her for it.