The President who intends to run and run: Carlos Menem has tamed inflation and only wants another 10 years leading Argentina

LIKE many a past leader, believing the nation needs him (or her), Argentina's President Carlos Menem is determined to go on and on and on. Standing between him and his next stated goal, a further six-year term, is only one minor obstacle - the country's 140-year-old constitution. The document, albeit hardly held in the highest esteem by military officers over the years, rules out successive terms.

Still, constitutions can be amended, if not ignored. In the case of Argentina, a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress would be enough to allow 63-year-old Mr Menem to run again.

The trouble is, his ruling Peronist party has nowhere near such a majority. Results of yesterday's mid-term legislative elections, for half the seats in the lower house, were expected to create little change in the chamber, where Peronists hold 119 of the 257 seats.

The ballot, and any small swing either way, was nevertheless being watched as a barometer both of Mr Menem's popularity four years after his election as President and of his chances of winning moral support for his bid for a further term. Defying widespread opposition to the idea even within his own party, he has proposed a referendum, possibly as early as next month, on the constitutional amendment he needs.

A plebiscite, in which the President claims he would win 70 per cent support, would not be binding and would in itself change nothing. But it would most certainly stoke Mr Menem's obsession with staying on. 'Obsession' has become a word so overused by media interviewers that Mr Menem has taken to denying it before it is mentioned. 'He'll be coming out in an 'Honest, I'm Not Obsessed With Staying On' T-shirt soon,' ventured a Western diplomat in Buenos Aires.

Opposition leaders say he wants to become 'Emperor Carlos I' or 'President-for-life,' and mock him in a television advertisement showing him posing alongside a Ferrari, a small gift from an admirer. Others call him el Moro (the Moor) in reference to his Arab origins.

'Four more years,' Mr Menem responds, echoing US party cheerleaders. He refers to four years beyond 1995, when his current term expires. 'I need 10 years to complete my project,' he says, noting that Francois Mitterrand and Felipe Gonzalez are already in double figures.

The success of his economic project, rather than his personality and despite his trustworthiness- rating with the public, leads many Argentinians to believe he might just pull it off and lead the country into the 21st century. When he took over from Raul Alfonsin in 1989, the country was virtually bankrupt and inflation was at an annual 20,000 per cent.

He has slashed that to a level many European countries would envy - consumer prices did not rise at all from July to August this year - and stabilised the peso by pegging it to the dollar. The poor in the villas (shanties) around Buenos Aires, who were forced to ransack supermarkets towards the end of Mr Alfonsin's term, now at least have the impression they are not getting poorer by the day, though Mr Menem has failed to improve health care or education.

The well-off, meanwhile, are even better off. They can holiday in Brazil or fly to Miami for a change of wardrobe without changing trillions of pesos or dipping too deeply into their US bank accounts.

Whether the economic improvements are enough to overcome a widespread image of corruption remains to be seen.

A weekend scandal involving the nine-man Supreme Court - six of them Menem appointees - won more headlines than the mid-term elections.

Two of the non-Menem justices said a court ruling unfavourable to the Central Bank had been stolen and replaced with one amended in the bank's favour.

Mr Menem's right-hand man, the Economy Minister, Domingo Cavallo, responded by suggesting that one of the two justices, Augusto Belluscio, may have killed his lover in Paris in 1989.

'It just so happens he (Belluscio) was in his underpants in the room with the woman who jumped out the window,' the daily Clarin newspaper quoted Mr Cavallo as saying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high