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Vote for me Argentina: widow Kirchner eyes landslide

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 20, 2011 (AFP) – Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner was on course for a landslide reelection win Sunday, buoyed by strong growth, a weak opposition, and public sympathy a year after the death of her husband.
The glamorous center-left lawyer, who has worn black since the death of ex-president Nestor Kirchner, has vowed to continue strong state influence in Latin America’s third economy, and is backed by a powerful state machine.
In an emotional speech Wednesday, the 58-year-old lauded her husband — who is credited with pulling the country out of its 2001 economic nosedive — for leaving “the best conditions to stand up to this (international) crisis,” as supporters waved blue and white flags and pictures of both of them.
Nestor Kirchner had been expected to run again for president when he suddenly died of a heart attack last October.
His wife had succeeded him to become Argentina’s first elected female head of state in 2007, for the Justicialist Party (PJ) of the powerful Peronist movement of three-time ex-president Juan Peron and his populist wife Evita.
Like Peron, Cristina Kirchner has won support in poor areas, wooing many with hikes in public spending, including child benefit and pensions, as well as long-term subsidies to transport and utilities.
Media criticism and allegations the government is under-reporting runaway inflation have done little to dent her popularity, and observers predicted she would win a first-round victory of more than 50 percent on Sunday.
“Argentine voters have a notoriously short-term vision when it comes to economics and politics, and today, things are going well,” Mark Jones, an Argentina expert from Rice University in the United States, told AFP.
Under Argentine election law, candidates avoid a second round run-off if they win more than 45 percent of the vote.
Kirchner faces a string of rivals but the strongest — socialist provincial governor Hermes Binner — was predicted to win only 12-16 percent.
Radical social democrat Ricardo Alfonsin — son of ex-president Raul Alfonsin — and dissident Peronist Alberto Rodriguez Saa trail even further behind.
Kirchner also hopes to win back control of the Chamber of Deputies lost in 2009, where half of the 257 seats will be renewed, and strengthen a tiny majority in the Senate, where a third of 72 seats are up for grabs.
None of her divided opponents have convinced voters they would do better at reducing inflation, which private analysts estimate at up to 25 percent per year, in a nation of 40 million.
The president has meanwhile highlighted the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and annual growth of more than seven percent — aided by high prices for soya and grain exports — since Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003.
Her husband rescued Argentina from its 2001-2002 financial crisis by increasing spending while restructuring enormous foreign debt, without the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He was also behind a campaign to raise taxes on farmers in 2008, which sparked months of social tension and produced a defeat for the couple and a decline for his wife in the polls.
But Cristina Kirchner, a more conciliatory figure, has bounced back in the past year on a wave of sympathy, saying “he” lives on in people receiving children’s allowances or pensions.
“They were the first since Peron to support pensioners,” said Teresa Giuliano, a 70-year-old pensioner in Buenos Aires.
“No one can complain about Argentina’s situation. If you look at Europe or the United States, we’re doing much better.”
Kirchner could face new economic challenges if she returns to the pink presidential palace, or Casa Rosada, as expected, as there are doubts about how long the current spending can continue.


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