BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Opposition candidate Mauricio Macri won Argentina's presidential election on Sunday, marking an end to the left-leaning and often combative era of President Cristina Fernandez, who along with her late husband dominated the country's political scene for 12 years and rewrote its social contract.
Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli, Fernandez's chosen successor, conceded late Sunday and said he had called Macri to congratulate him on a victory that promises to chart Argentina on a more free market, less state interventionist course.
"Today is a historic day," said Macri, addressing thousands of cheering supporters as horns were heard blaring across Buenos Aires. "It's the change of an era."
With 96 percent of the vote counted, Macri had 52 percent support compared with 48 percent for Scioli.
The victory by the business-friendly Macri comes after he did better than expected in the first round on Oct. 25, forcing a runoff with Scioli, the governor of the vast Buenos Aires province.
Macri campaigned on promises to reform and jumpstart the South American country's sagging economy. He pledged to lead by "listening more and speaking less" than Fernandez, something he frequently said on the campaign trail.
"I'm so happy," said Julia Juarez, 66, a retired teacher who was one of thousands watching the returns at Macri's bunker. "Argentines are tired of this government. Tired of the corruption. We are ready for something new."
Scioli, who had been expected to win by 10 or more points in last month's six-candidate first round of voting, tried to regain momentum before Sunday's runoff by frequently attacking Macri. He said a Macri win would subject this nation of 41 million people to the market-driven policies of the 1990s, a period of deregulation that many Argentines believe set the stage for the financial meltdown of 2001-02.
Macri's win signals a clear end to the era of Fernandez, who along with her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, rewrote the country's social contract, gaining both rabid followers and fierce critics along the way.
The power couple spent heavily on programs for the poor, raised tariffs to protect local economies and passed several progressive laws, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2010.
Macri frequently repelled Scioli's claim that Macri represented policies of the past, saying he would lead with "21st century development" as opposed to "21st century socialism" - a term used by supporters of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro.
The election comes at a time when Argentina's economy, Latin America's third largest, has stalled. Inflation is around 30 percent, gross domestic product growth is just above zero and many private economists warn that the Fernandez administration's spending is not sustainable.
Macri has promised to address the economic problems and to shake things up regionally. If elected, he said, he would push to expel Venezuela from the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur because of the jailing of opposition leaders under Maduro. That would be a huge change for a continent where many countries, including neighbors Chile, Brazil, and Bolivia, have left-leaning democratic governments that have maintained close ties with Venezuela.