Argentine presidential election front-runner casts self as pragmatic, criticizes leftists

Mauricio Macri, the front-runner in Argentina's impending presidential runoff, is casting himself as the pragmatic candidate whose ideology is to "get things done," promising to steer his country away from the socialism espoused by many of the region's leaders.

Speaking to foreign correspondents Tuesday, the business-friendly opposition candidate described his vision of governing as "21st century development" as opposed to "21st century socialism" — a term used by supporters of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro, as well as their regional allies.

"Our ideology is to resolve problems and get things done," Macri said. "We don't believe that Argentina's future lies in the recipes of the past. There is an intermediary way that is solving the problems of the people, telling the truth and respecting institutions."

Macri continued with his campaign strategy of promising both major economic reforms to address Argentina's myriad economic ills and a common-sense government that will work well with the international community. He is contrasting himself with outgoing President Cristina Fernandez, who during more than eight years in power shifted the country to the left and frequently fought with foreign leaders, political opponents at home and creditors abroad.

The message appears to be working well for Macri, who shook up the political landscape with a much-better than expected finish in the Oct. 25 first round of the presidential election. Macri, the outgoing mayor of Buenos Aires, got 34 percent support, compared to 37 percent for Daniel Scioli, the governing party candidate and Fernandez's chosen successor.

For months, many polls had suggested Scioli, governor of the vast Buenos Aires province, would win by 10 or more points. Instead, the close finish forced a runoff.

Several polls over the last week now give Macri the edge for the Nov. 22 runoff. One poll, published over the weekend by consulting firm Management & Fit, said 52 percent of voters surveyed supported Macri while 44 percent backed Scioli. The poll interviewed by phone 2,400 people Nov. 1-5 and had a margin for error of two percentage points.

Scioli has gone on the attack since the opening vote, frequently attacking Macri and warning voters that his opponent's policies are similar to those followed in the 1990s, just before the 2001-2002 financial crisis that impoverished millions of Argentines.

Macri has kept with his strategy of portraying himself as a moderate problem solver who will tone down the often heated political rhetoric in this South American nation of 41 million people.

Speaking to the foreign journalists Tuesday, Macri said it would "be easier" for Brazil's left-of-center president, Dilma Rousseff, to work with him than Fernandez, a clear dig at the outgoing president.

Macri said he opposed efforts by leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales to pave the way to be re-elected several times, arguing that changes of power are good for building strong institutions.

He also expressed concern for opposition leaders in Venezuela who have been jailed under Maduro's socialist administration. Macri said that if such leaders were not liberated, as Argentina's president he would push to remove Venezuela from the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur.