Business-friendly conservative and Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri has been sworn into office as Argentinean president, turning the page on the era of leftist leader Cristina Kirchner, who boycotted the inauguration.
Macri’s swearing-in on Thursday marks the start of a new era for Argentina: a tilt to the right after 12 years under Kirchner and her late husband Nestor, the left-wing power couple who led the country back to stability after an economic meltdown in 2001.
Macri took his oath in Congress in front of legislators, several Latin American heads of state and other dignitaries, including the former Spanish King Juan Carlos I.
“Today a dream is being realised,” he said Macri.
Macri has vowed to reboot Latin America’s third-largest economy, which is heading back towards recession, by ending protectionist import restrictions, cutting heavy taxes on agricultural exports and scrapping the official exchange rate puffing up the Argentine peso.
But the national conversation on inauguration day was all about the telenovela-style tiff between him and Kirchner.
“It shows how polarised Argentina is,” Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, said.
It all started with a disagreement about where the inauguration ceremony should take place.
Macri, 56, wanted to take the oath of office at Congress, then travel the 2km to the iconic presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, to receive the presidential sash and sceptre from Kirchner.
Kirchner, 62, insisted that the whole thing could be done at Congress – in line with the constitution and the tradition she and Nestor set out, she argued.
Determined to have his moment, Macri took the matter to court and the court ruled in his favour.
It was a symbolic conclusion to the divisive Kirchner’s eight years in office, which were marked by her confrontational style and distaste for compromise.
Kirchner is from the populist tradition of Juan Domingo Peron, and his wife Evita, who expanded the reach of the state in the 1940s.
Thousands of supporters thronged Argentina’s most famous square on Wednesday to say goodbye to Kirchner, who made her last public address before handing over power.
In her speech, Kirchner criticised the federal court ruling that determined her presidency ended at midnight on Wednesday, saying it would leave Argentina without a president until Macri’s swearing-in.
“I can’t talk much because after midnight, I’ll turn into a pumpkin,” she joked.
During her eight years in power, Kirchner ringed Argentina with protectionist trade policies meant to bolster local industry.
She increased welfare spending at a time when millions of Argentines needed help climbing out of poverty after a devastating 2002 economic crisis.