Argentina's power couple devastated by blow at polls

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The Independent US

The romance between President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the voters of Argentina, which has been strained almost since the day she came to office, looked decidedly on the rocks yesterday after mid-term elections deprived her of control of both houses of Congress and delivered a humiliating blow to her husband and ex-president, Nestor Kirchner.

While the loss of control in Congress will limit the President's options in the second half of her term, it was the failure of her husband to win a seat representing the Buenos Aires region that was especially stunning. After early returns from voting stations, Mr Kirchner's ticket for Congress was trailing that of Francisco de Narvaez, a millionaire businessman, by 32.1 to 34.6 per cent.

The carnage for the populist Kirchner clan muddies the political picture in Latin America's third-largest economy and will fire the starting gun on the race for potential candidates for the next presidential contest in 2011. When Mr Kirchner nominated his wife as the candidate to succeed him in 2007, it was widely seen as a game that would, after four years, allow him to move back into the presidential palace and replace her. That scenario now looks less believable. Last night Mr Kirchner said he would resign as the head of the ruling Peronist party

"It closes the chapter of the Kirchners," said Riordan Roett, the director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies in Washington. However, other observers said that it was premature to count out the couple. President Fernandez is expected to announce a significant cabinet reshuffle this week. For nearly all the 18 months she has been power, she has faced grim approval ratings, hovering at about 30 per cent.

She very quickly became snarled in a long and heated fight with the country's farmers over a proposed tax increase on grain exports and tried to regain the support of the working class with populist steps such as nationalising pension funds and an airline. All the while, however, the economy in Argentina has stumbled amid ongoing claims that the government has misreported escalating inflation rates.