Menem to quit race for Argentinian presidency

Aides of Carlos Menem have indicated that he will pull out of the Argentinian presidential race, to avoid a humiliating second-round defeat on Sunday by his rival Peronist, Nestor Kirchner.

Mr Menem's withdrawal was widely expected after he cancelled TV advertising spots and meetings with newspaper editors yesterday.

An aide later told reporters that the 72-year-old former president would resign "to save Argentina the economic expense of the second-round election". He said Mr Menem wanted an Argentina in peace and not caught in a conflict between "Menemists", the centre-right faction of the ruling Peronist party, and "Duhaldists", the centre-left Peronist faction that backs President Duhalde and his favoured successor, Nestor Kirchner.

Although Mr Menem won the first round of the election on 27 April with 24 per cent to Mr Kirchner's 22 per cent, he was expected to suffer a humiliating defeat in the second round on 18 May, as a wave of "anti-Menemism" among voters who abhor his corrupt record, caused them to rally around Mr Kirchner.

The latest polls had predicted Mr Kirchner would win with about 70 per cent of the vote to roughly 30 per cent for Mr Menem.

Analysts believe that if Mr Menem resigns and avoids a humiliating defeat he could still salvage some political influence in the Peronist party, which he currently heads.

His withdrawal will cause voting for the second round to be suspended. It could create a crisis of legitimacy for Mr Kirchner, who will have a weak mandate with only 22 per cent of the vote. This might prejudice Argentina's chances of getting a long-term financial deal with the IMF after the current deal ends in August.

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