Buenos Aires, Oct 29: First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner swept to victory in Argentina's presidential vote to become the first woman elected to lead the country, television exit polls showed.
Polls aired by several television channels yesterday showed Fernandez, a center-leftist senator, with 42 per cent to 46 per cent of the vote, well ahead of her nearest rival, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio with 23 percent to 25 per cent.
If official results confirm that Fernandez has more than 45 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10 per centage point lead over Carrio, she will win the presidency without facing a runoff election next month.
Cheers and applause erupted at Fernandez's campaign bunker and dozens of supporters banged drums outside when television channels flashed the exit poll numbers.
''She is going to be the same as her husband, who has done a lot of things like build houses for the poor,'' said 50-year-old chauffeur Ramon Reggie Quiroga.
Fernandez, 54, ran on the record of her husband, leftist President Nestor Kirchner, and she would take over from him in a highly unusual transfer of power between democratically elected spouses.
Many Argentines credit Kirchner with pulling the country out of a dramatic economic crisis in 2001-02 and using growth of 8 per cent a year to create jobs, raise salaries and expand pension benefits.
A Fernandez has been Kirchner's top advisor during his four-year presidency. Voters tired of boom-and-bust cycles hope she will sustain the bonanza he has overseen, even as high inflation and energy shortages cause concern.
Opposition parties complained that polling stations were low on ballots for their candidates, and a judge extended voting in the capital city for an hour due to long lines. But a top government official called the elections ''crystal clean.'' Argentina, a major grains exporter and producer of beef on its huge pampas grasslands, is South America's second biggest country and historically one of its wealthiest.
Earlier in the day, Fernandez voted in a school in Rio Gallegos in southern Patagonia, Kirchner's hometown and her adopted homeland.
''I'm part of the generation that grew up and couldn't vote for anything,'' she said, referring to Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship.
Argentina had its only other woman president in the mid-1970s when Isabel Peron took power after the death of her husband, strongman leader Juan Peron, but she was not elected to the job.
A Fernandez victory would make her the second woman elected president in a Latin America country in the last two years, coming after Chile's Michelle Bachelet won office.
It would also continue the trend of leftist leadership in South America. But while Fernandez is expected to stay friendly with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, she, like her husband, is more moderate than the firebrand socialist.
Her campaign seemed effortless. Handpicked by her husband and chosen by a faction of the Peronist party without a primary, Fernandez avoided debates and was vague on policy.
Rivals have criticized the Kirchners as being authoritarian and treating the election as the beginning of a political dynasty to tighten their grip on the presidency and Congress.