Opposition candidate leads Argentina's primary polls

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The preliminary results from Sunday's voting suggest the conservative Macri will face an uphill battle going into general elections in October and gives the populists who governed Argentina for most of the last two decades a strong chance of returning to power.

Fernandez stressed that the election result testified to the confidence of citizens in his political project.

"We've had a bad election and that forces us to redouble our efforts", said Macri, whose popularity has plunged since last year's currency crisis and the much-criticized $56 billion International Monetary Fund bail-out loan he secured.

A coalition backing opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez - whose running mate is former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - led by a wider-than-expected 15 percentage points with 47.3% of votes, with 88% of ballots counted.

Alberto and Cristina Fernandez, who are not related despite sharing the same surname, have blamed Macri for a rise in poverty and unemployment.

Given that all of the recession-hit South American country's major parties have already chosen their presidential candidates, the primaries effectively served as a nationwide pre-election opinion poll.

Poverty now affects 32 percent of the population. The massive $57 billion deal Macri secured previous year with the International Monetary Fund has so far failed to improve the situation. The Argentine Peso is among the world's worst-performing currencies this year.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move.

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The Buenos Aires stock exchange actually shot up eight percent on Friday amid expectation that Macri would do well in Sunday's vote.

Political analyst Sergio Berensztein described it as the government's "worst political crisis".

A candidate needs at least 45% of the vote or 40% and a difference of 10 percentage points over the second-place runner in order to win the presidency outright.

If there is no clear victor, voters will return for a runoff on November 24. "After the primary we will call on all Argentines to get together and begin to solve the infinite problems that our nation is going through", Mr. Fernandez told reporters.

"For those who didn't vote for me, I promise to work hard so they understand me", said Fernandez to thousands of cheering supporters in Buenos Aires.

Analyst Rosendo Fraga said Macri and Fernandez need to come to a bipartisan "governability agreement", otherwise "it's going to be very hard to build confidence" in the markets between now and October's vote.

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