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ARGENTINA
Fernández’s challenges
Andrés Gaudin
11/15/2007
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Argentina’s first elected woman president takes office with broad support and Congress on her side.

Cristina Fernández easily won the Oct. 28 presidential election, becoming the first elected woman president in Argentine history.

Her victory was not surprising — she had a strong lead over the other hopefuls for months — and her closest rival was also a female, an element that pre-election polls did not show.

Elisa Carrió, a lawmaker like Fernández, and opposition leader of the Civic Coalition, won 22.9 percent of the vote, mainly in the middle- and upper-class sectors of Buenos Aires and other large cities.

Carrió captured some of the right-wing vote, the rest of which was split between Roberto Lavagna with 16.9 percent, Alberto Rodríguez Saá with 7.7 percent and Ricardo López Murphy with 1.4 percent.

Carrió trailed Fernández, wife of current President Néstor Kirchner, who won 44.9 percent of the vote. Fernández’s more than 10-point lead ruled out the need for a runoff.

Fernández now faces a difficult task: maintain Argentina’s strong economic growth — monthly growth averaged 8.7 percent of the gross domestic product over the last 20 months — while putting forth a policy to create a greater balance of wealth.

She must also handle rising prices of goods, which some say are a result of increased internal buying power and others attribute to price gouging.

“It’s clear that they voted for Cristina so that she continues what Kirchner has done, above all economically,” said sociologist Ricardo Rouvier.

He says that thanks to a high external demand for Argentine products, there was an increase in the gross domestic product, and a drop in poverty and unemployment rates, issues that “had the country on the verge of a social breakdown when Kirchner took office in 2003”.

“Of course this has its negative side for the president-elect because she, who was elected to stay on the same track, will not have that classic grace period that peoples give their new leaders at the start of their terms,” Rouvier added.

Outgoing government covers Fernández
In an effort to soften her first few months, the outgoing government has already begun to review some of its policies in an effort to control inflation, such as the numerous subsidies that have frozen the prices of public services as well as efforts to avoid increased prices of foodstuffs.

The government announced that before Dec. 10 — when Fernández takes office — the gradual increases in electricity and gas rates will have been announced.

These increases will only affect those who consume the most, who will subsequently pay higher fees, and aim to reduce the price of energy-sector (driven either by gas, electricity or liquid fuels) subsidies, which currently total US$4 billion.

Fernández will also be free from the political cost stemming from the renegotiation of contracts with privatized companies, which is expected to mean a 30-percent increase in railway fares and a reduction of the royalties that the company managing the national airports pays the government.

This same company will be able to pay its debts with the state with shares.

The president-elect will distance herself from unpopular increases from her husband’s government: a 19-percent hike on taxi fares, 24 percent increase in private health care providers’ fees, 20 percent increase in monthly private school tuition and a 23-percent hike in auto insurance for the country’s 7.8 million vehicles. (Argentina’s government oversees education and health care, even in the private sector.)

All in her favor
Fernández’s new government will have strong popular support and a Congress in her favor — 61 percent in the Senate and 62 percent in the lower house, giving her the needed backing to pass her political and institutional initiatives with ease.

Luckily, she only has only a very weak opposition to face. Carrió’s centrist coalition began to break apart the day after the election when out of its 31 deputies, the nine socialists and the eight lawmakers who belonged to Carrió’s old party — the Alternative for a Republic of Equals — decided to form their own blocs.

Carlos Raimundi, a lawmaker with the party, known by its Spanish initials, ARI, said the party had changed. “It was not the ARI of social struggle,” he said.

Right-wing parties also have paltry support. While conservative businessman Mauricio Macri was elected mayor of Buenos Aires with almost 70 percent of the vote in June, López Murphy, part of his Republican Proposal alliance, won just 12.8 percent of the vote in last month’s election.

Twenty-four years after the fall of Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship, a nationwide survey the week of the vote by the Poliarquía pollster found seven of every 10 people had no “interest in politics.” On the Oct. 28 election, even though voting is mandatory, only 71.7 of registered voters went to the polls. The last six elections’ participation averaged 84 percent.


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