BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 31 — The landslide victory of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of Néstor Kirchner, Argentina’s current president, seemed to signal that the Peronist party was back and stronger than ever. But the way she won the presidency and the economic challenges she faces will prove a stiff test of her abilities to keep the couple in power.
Mrs. Kirchner, 54, won on Sunday with 45 percent of the vote, becoming Argentina’s first woman to be elected president and cementing the Kirchners as a political dynasty.
Her closest challenger, the center-left Congresswoman Elisa Carrió, garnered 23 percent. But an analysis of the vote shows that the president-elect won in only two major urban centers — Mendoza and San Miguel de Tucumán — drawing most of her support from the provinces where the lower classes voted with nationalistic fervor to continue Mr. Kirchner’s economic policies, which managed to pull Argentina out of its 2001 economic crisis, considered by many economists to be the country’s worst ever.
The aging Peronist party that carried her to victory has gone through so much change in the past decade that it is in “bad need of some vitamins,” said Graciela Römer, a political analyst here.
Mrs. Kirchner inherits double-digit inflation and a lurking energy crisis, two issues that will be difficult to address without alienating the poor classes that are the most vulnerable to economic shocks.
But her ultimate success in building her party’s base and shoring up the Peronists’ grip on power could depend on her ability to respond to the demands of the middle class, which has been critical of the authoritarian tendencies of the Kirchner government. Mrs. Kirchner failed to win in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Rosario — three cities with substantial middle-class populations.
“She will have to continue with the economic policies of Kirchner but put a stop to the concentration of power,” Ms. Römer said, “and look to build more dialogue and consensus.”
Peronism, a populist and nationalistic movement that sprang out of the rule of Gen. Juan Domingo Perón, the former president, has in recent years become three parties in one, with Mr. Kirchner leading the center-left strain with more pragmatic tendencies. But his mandate was tenuous in 2003, when he mustered only 22 percent of the vote on the first ballot. Former President Carlos Menem, another Peronist who espoused a neoliberal model, dropped out of contention, making a runoff unnecessary.
Even with Mrs. Kirchner’s large margin of victory, the government’s ability to maneuver could be more limited than before, analysts said this week. The new president is likely to inherit her husband’s falling approval rating, as voters make little distinction between her and Mr. Kirchner, Daniel Kerner, an analyst with Eurasia Group, said this week.
And the government will have its hands full taming rising consumer prices. Mrs. Kirchner has insisted that official government figures showing inflation between 8 percent and 10 percent have not been manipulated, but economists both here and abroad have said otherwise for months, pegging the inflation rate at closer to 20 percent.
The government intends to lower inflation through a “social pact” between the private sector and unions that would keep a lid on prices and wage-increase demands, and through a gradual fiscal adjustment. But measures that could slow growth or constrain consumption will be politically unfeasible, Mr. Kerner said, as they will undermine the government’s base of support.
An advantage Mrs. Kirchner has, however, is the fractured state of Argentina’s opposition. Julio Burdman, a political analyst here, called the opposition’s organization the weakest in Argentine history. Opposition parties briefly rallied to protest missing ballots on election night, a charge that Mrs. Kirchner said should be investigated.
Mrs. Kirchner is expected to have a strong ally to help plug the holes in the Peronist party apparatus — her husband. Mr. Kirchner said in interviews last week that he would dedicate himself after the election to “constructing social organizations,” a signal some analysts took to mean that he plans to shore up the party.
If he is successful, that might be just enough time for him to make a run at replacing his wife as president, rather than her risking lame-duck status. Some analysts believe Mr. Kirchner had just such a plan in mind when he decided in July not to run for re-election, despite his popularity at the time, and instead pushed his wife’s candidacy in a sort of merry-go-round presidency.
The Kirchners have been coy about their political strategy. Mr. Kirchner said publicly on Tuesday that he would “take off for a literary cafe.” In an interview with CNN in Spanish on Tuesday, Mrs. Kirchner seemed to scoff at the idea of an alternating succession.
“Kirchner 2011 is like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ” she said. “It is a fictional movie.”