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Argentina votes, Fernandez favored for re-election
Leading candidates in Argentina's election
Argentine president's policies in likely second term
Analysis & Opinion
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An election to anticipate
1 of 4. A woman looks for her name on a list before casting her vote in Argentina's presidential elections at a public school in Buenos Aires, October 23, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES |
Sun Oct 23, 2011 11:44am EDT
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's center-left president, Cristina Fernandez, looked set for a blowout re-election victory on Sunday that could lead to more state intervention in the economy.
The combative 58-year-old leader has made a dramatic comeback from low approval ratings that dogged her during much of her first term.
Helped by an economy growing at about 8 percent per year and a feeble field of opposition candidates, pre-election opinion polls showed Fernandez winning with enough votes to avoid a runoff.
This would give her a mandate to continue policies that have riled pro-market farmers and business leaders while locking in the support of average people helped by her generous spending on programs for poor families and the elderly.
"I don't like Cristina's political style but thanks to her I could retire," 74-year-old Ana Rossi told Reuters as she left her polling station in a Buenos Aires suburb. "It's out of gratitude that I voted for her."
Fernandez may also regain the control of Congress she lost in the 2009 mid-term election.
The sharp-tongued former senator has nationalized private pension funds, raised taxes on soy exports and kept quotas on wheat and corn shipments. Growers say such interventionist measures dampen much-needed investment in agriculture, Argentina's top source of hard currency.
The president was swarmed by followers as she voted in her home province of Santa Cruz. She embraced some of them and waved to others with her manicured right hand.
In brief comments to reporters, she defended her policies as having led to solid growth at a time of global turmoil.
"When you look at what's happening in the world, you can feel very proud to be Argentine," Fernandez said.
Fernandez won more than 50 percent of the vote in an August primary election that served as a giant opinion poll because all parties had already chosen their candidates.
Surveys say she has since widened her lead over rivals such as Hermes Binner, a socialist provincial governor who is a distant second in most polls.
To win re-election on Sunday, Fernandez needs at least 45 percent of the vote or just 40 percent with a lead of 10 percentage points over her closest rival.
Fernandez vows to dedicate her second term to the memory of her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who preceded her as president and whose 2010 death sparked a wave of sympathy. "Strength Cristina!" became her supporters' rallying cry.
Kirchner is credited by many for getting Argentina's economy on its feet after a 2001/02 financial crisis. Fernandez plans to "deepen" their economic model in her second term.
Fernandez often tears up when speaking about "him," not needing to say Kirchner's name for people to understand.
An elegant dresser with a taste for high heels, Fernandez struggled with approval ratings of about 20 percent in 2008, when her feud with farmers exploded in massive protests. Profits driven by high grains prices have since calmed growers and many rural areas voted for Fernandez in the primary.
Twenty-four Senate seats are up for grabs on Sunday and 130 seats in the lower house. Most political analysts expect Fernandez to win back congressional control.
Speculation has grown in recent weeks that Fernandez, who has no clear successor, could try to reform the constitution to allow her to run again in 2015. The constitution can be changed only with a two-thirds majority in Congress.
Other South American leaders -- from Colombia to Ecuador to Venezuela -- have changed laws to allow them more time in power. Simply keeping the option open could allow Fernandez to avoid becoming a "lame duck" in her second term.
"Keeping alive the possibility of a constitutional reform, while controversial, is a sound strategy to preserve power," said Ignacio Labaqui, a Buenos Aires-based analyst with emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors.
(Additional reporting by Jorge Otaola; Editing by Kieran Murray and John O'Callaghan)
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