BUENOS AIRES: Argentina's Peronist leader Alberto Fernandez was sworn in as president on Tuesday (Dec 10), marking a shift to the left for Latin America's no 3 economy as the country firefights rampant inflation, credit default fears and rising poverty.
The 60-year-old center-left politician took his presidential oath in front of cheering lawmakers at Congress along with political leaders from the region and representatives from major trade partners including Brazil and the United States.
Fernandez takes over from conservative Mauricio Macri, who symbolically handed the incoming leader the presidential baton and sash.
Fernandez had driven himself to the ceremony at Congress in his own silver Toyota, waving to crowds lined along the roadside. He will later travel to the Casa Rosada presidential palace, where he will hold a ceremony with his new ministers.
Cheering supporters gathered in the historical Plaza de Mayo square in the center of Buenos Aires opposite the pink-hued palace, waving banners and beating drums while food vendors grilled "choripan" sausages in the summer heat.
His arrival marks a return of Argentina's powerful left-leaning Peronist political flank, including his divisive Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a rockstar populist who clashed with investors and farmers during her twin terms between 2007-2015.
The new administration is expected to usher in growth-focused policies after unpopular austerity under Macri, which could strain already depleted state coffers.
Colorful banners hung around the central city square on Tuesday, many from unions and grassroots organizations who helped drive the Peronists back to power. T-shirts with the face of Fernandez de Kirchner read "We're back."
"Today there is going to be a party," said Rafael Mantero, 45, a food vendor from the city of Rosario, who said he voted for Fernandez because he had seen his sales fall by around half in the last couple of years under Macri.
"These past four years were terrible for me economically."
Supporters hope Fernandez can tackle annual inflation running above 50 per cent, poverty approaching 40per cent amid recession, and tricky restructuring talks over around US$100 billion in sovereign debt with lenders including the International Monetary Fund.
In a reflection of political challenges ahead, Brazil's right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro, who has clashed publicly with Fernandez, did not attend, the first time since 2002 a Brazilian president has not attended the inauguration in Buenos Aires.
IT'S THE ECONOMY
At front and center for hard-hit Argentines, investors and markets are Fernandez's plans to right the economy. He picked Martín Guzmán, a young disciple of the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, to head the economy ministry last week.
"Alberto needs to improve the economic and social situation," said Verónica Quintana, 34, selling flags in the central square. "There are many people who are hungry and it is a critical situation we are in."
Many investors have been worried about Fernandez ushering in greater state intervention, as happened under his vice president during her back-to-back administrations.
Fernandez, a political operator who burst into the limelight just this year, will need to balance varied demands of his broad Peronist coalition and pressure from Macri's weakened, though still influential, party.
With little financial firepower, Fernandez has worker unions demanding wage increases to make up for high inflation and charities calling for an increase in subsidies for the poor.
"The first thing we are going to do is start working on the issue of hunger. At the same time, we will get to work on the issue of debt," Fernandez told Radio Con Vos.
Political analyst Julio Burdman said this juggling act would be Fernandez's biggest challenge.
"He needs to do a rapid maneuver to get the economy started again, which will all depend on how he is able to handle the debt."