Briefing: Wife of Argentine president on course for election victory

Voters today are likely to let the Kirchners keep the top job in the family
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The Independent US

Argentina goes to the polls today and, barring an unexpected revolt, voters are likely to choose the wife of outgoing President Nestor Kirchner as his successor. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is already being compared to another female icon of Buenos Aires, Evita Peron. Oh, yes, and to Hillary Clinton, too.

Is there something fishy about President Kirchner hand-picking his wife to succeed him?

This is potentially a neat trick by the Kirchner's. Nestor, elected in 2003, and now taking the credit for the remarkable recovery since then of Argentina's economy, could have run for a second term. But two successive terms is the limit. This way, he avoids returning to office as a lame-duck. But if his wife does well in office, he could run again in another four years. In fact, the pair of them could hand the job back and forth between them for 16years or more. A dynasty in the making. Cristina was spared any contest securing the nomination to run for president – unlike Mrs Clinton, who has plenty of contenders from her own party.

Is it a sure thing she will win?

Argentina's politics are famously tumultuous so nothing is ever for certain. But recent opinion polls suggest she will win roughly 43 per cent of the vote today, far enough ahead of her nearest rivals, Congresswoman Elisa Carrio and Roberto Lavagna, a former economic minister in her husband's government, to avoid a second-round run-off vote. Her swearing-in would happen on 10 December.

How come her path to victory seems so assured? Is she that wonderful?

The economy, stupid. Nestor has overseen a miraculous recovery from the economic implosion of 2001-02 with a 50 per cent growth in economic output in five years. Poverty and unemployment numbers have been slashed and Buenos Aires, in particular, has the sheen once again of a booming, tourist-invested metropolis. Argentines want more of the same. It helps that the opposition is fractured and the Peronist government of her husband has bought off several constituencies with improved pay and pensions.

With the economy recovery already set, can she coast once in office?

No, far from it. New problems are lurking, especially inflation, officially said to be at 8 per cent a year, but which could be at least twice that much according to some economists. The current government has been accused of wilfully fixing the numbers and has responded with a host of price controls which are barely working and threaten to distort the economy further.

Are we right to compare her with Evita and Hillary?

The comparisons with Hillary are uncanny – a sitting senator (of Buenos Aires province) who has stood by her president husband now seeking the office for herself. Of course, Hillary let eight years pass before making her bid. The two have also met twice. The echoes of Evita are politically potent for her, but Evita, who died 55 years ago, was from a far more humble background and, though asked to serve as vice president, never took office or was elected to office.

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