(Recasts with end of voting)
(No Access Argentina)
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Polls closed in Argentina
on Sunday in a vote to elect one third of the Senate and half of
the lower house of Congress that could give business-friendly
President Mauricio Macri's coalition a broader mandate to
The private sector has worried about a potential comeback by
former President Cristina Fernandez, a free-spending populist
who nearly bankrupted the country during her 2007-2015 rule. But
opinion polls had put her in second place in her bid for a
Senate seat in Buenos Aires, Argentina's most populous province.
Argentina's 98,000 polling stations closed at 6 pm (21 00
GMT) after a calm day of voting under clear Southern Hemisphere
spring skies. The first results would be released at 9 p.m.
local time and should be finished around 2 a.m., according to
the interior ministry.
Macri's Cambiemos, or "Let's Change" coalition, should get
the most votes in races in the top five population centers of
Buenos Aires City, and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba,
Santa Fe and Mendoza, said Ignacio Labaqui, Buenos Aires-based
analyst for emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors.
The areas account for nearly 66 percent of Argentina's
electorate, according to voter registration data. No one party
has won all five in a mid-term vote since 1985.
"I voted for Macri's list because I want to give him support
in Congress. I don't agree with all his policies but it is time
for dialogue," said Hector Catalano, a 47-year-old businessman.
The coalition won a higher-than-expected 36 percent of votes
cast nationwide in the August non-binding primary. Analysts had
said the coalition may get more than 40 percent on Sunday.
Fernandez tied with Bullrich in the August primary but has
since lagged, failing to unite the opposition. Her expected
second-place showing would still grant Fernandez one of the
province's three Senate seats under Argentina's list system.
Argentina's Merval stock index and its peso currency
have strengthened on bets Fernandez will not get enough support
to launch a serious bid for the presidency in 2019. A
weaker-than-expected result for Cambiemos on Sunday could spark
a round of profit-taking.
While economic growth has picked up, Macri's fiscal
tightening program, aimed at cutting a yawning fiscal deficit by
reducing home heating fuel and transportation subsidies, has
been hard for a lot of voters to swallow. Working class
neighborhoods where Peronism has deep roots and support for
Fernandez remains strong have been particularly hard hit.
"I'm going to vote for Cristina," said Pamela Silva, 29,
cashier at an empanadas restaurant in Lanus, Buenos Aires
province. "Last time I voted for Macri based on his platform of
change, and now it seems like the worst mistake I could have
"At least with Cristina we could get by," she added.
(Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison, Miguel Lobianco,
Caroline Stauffer and Luc Cohen; Editing by Dan Grebler and Mary
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