Protest vote casts doubt on Menem poll victory

ARGENTINA'S President, Carlos Menem, got what he set out for in Sunday's special elections on constitutional reform - the chance to run again next year for his Peronist party. He also got more than he had bargained for. A ragtag leftist coalition called the Frente Grande (Big Front) and a small right-wing party scored enough protest votes to suggest that he may not be guaranteed four more years in the presidential palace.

The outcome left international investors, who poured about dollars 17bn ( pounds 11.5bn) into the country last year, in pensive mood. Some had never heard of the Big Front, a months- old coalition of leftists, Communists, independents and disillusioned Peronists. The coalition stunned Mr Menem by beating his party where it most hurt, in the capital city, Buenos Aires. It was the left's biggest victory in the city in half a century.

The Frente Grande ran a campaign attacking Mr Menem's desire to bend the constitution for his own ends, and against corruption. 'This is a no to corruption, a no to Menem's re-election,' the leader of Frente, Carlos Alvarez, said.

Of the 70 or so per cent of Argentina's 22 million voters who turned out on Sunday, around 38 per cent voted for the Peronists, officially known as the Justicialist Party, and some 20 per cent for the social democratic Radical Party of Raul Alfonsin, which supported the constitutional change. The Frente Grande's vote looked like being around 12 per cent, followed by the right-wing Movement for Dignity, with around eight per cent.

The new 305-member constituent assembly, to be formed in the summer, will contain a majority in favour of changing the constitution along lines agreed by Mr Menem and Mr Alfonsin. But analysts noted Mr Menem won the votes of less than 25 per cent of the electorate, making him less than a shoo-in next year.

The megalomaniac, page 19

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