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Mid-term elections a key test for Argentina's Kirchner

28 october 2013, 16:52
0
Voting got under way in Argentina Sunday in midterm elections that observers said could mark the beginning of President Cristina Kirchner's political unraveling, AFP reports.

More than 30 million voters were eligible to cast ballots to elect half the lower chamber of Congress and a third of the Senate.

Kirchner is not a candidate for reelection, but Sunday's vote nevertheless is seen as a key test of her political viability during her last two years as president, with polls suggesting that her Peronist party could lose ground.

The standard bearer of the populist Peronists, Kirchner will be barred from running for a third term in 2015, and many see Sunday's vote as the start of the race to replace her.

The president's Front for Victory faction is expected to retain control of the lower house of Congress and remain Argentina's leading political force.

But polls suggest it will lose seats to both Massa's Peronist movement and to the divided right- and left-wing opposition parties.

A polarizing figure, Kirchner has seen her popularity sag in recent months, despite a health crisis which some thought might bolster her public support.

Her oldest son Maximo, told AFP that Kirchner on Sunday was "well, and in good spirits" after surgery this month to remove a blood clot on her brain.

She was not, however, quite well enough to cast a ballot, and continues to rest and heal at the presidential residence north of Buenos Aires.

Argentina's first democratically-elected female president, Kirchner has seen her approval rating slide to about 30 percent since she was swept back into office for a second term in 2011.

Mariel Fornoni, head of pollster Management & Fit, said the election was a key barometer of support -- or lack of it -- for the Argentine leader.

"It is a cycle that is ending, and a point of departure. Monday is the beginning of the race for the presidential election of 2015 and control of Peronism," Fornoni said.

The business class dislikes Kirchner's failure to control inflation and protectionist economics, import restrictions, the nationalization of companies such as energy giant YPF and foreign exchange controls.

Critics are also skeptical of her foreign policy alignment with anti-Western governments in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

But the poor revere Kirchner for her fight against poverty, generous social welfare programs and improved retirement pensions.

Sunday's vote also was expected to provide an important measure of her party's support in Buenos Aires, with its population of 12.9 million people in the greater metropolitan area.

The challenges facing the country are many: Argentina's economy is sluggish and violent crime is on the rise.

And although Argentina is still one of the world's breadbaskets -- exporting massive amounts of soy, wheat and meat -- Kirchner's government has presided over expanding market controls, and sky-high inflation.

Her young and relatively inexperienced former chief of staff, Sergio Massa, 41, who broke with the president and formed a splinter Peronist party, is considered the man to watch.

Kirchner followed her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, as Argentina's president. Her husband was in office from 2003-2007.

Polls in Argentina's 24 districts were to close Sunday at 2100 GMT.

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