President Cristina Fernandez could rest easy ahead of Sunday’s elections in Argentina, with polls suggesting a landslide victory over six rivals.
Not that she did: An irrepressible multi-tasker, she campaigned so hard that blood pressure problems repeatedly forced her to cancel events.
If she does win, she’ll be the first female president re-elected in Latin America. But it also will be a bittersweet victory for Fernandez, her first in a lifetime of politics without her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who died of a heart attack in 2010.
Since his death, Fernandez has reversed her negative numbers and proved her ability to govern on her own, ensuring loyalty or respect from an unruly political elite.
Many Argentines in pre-election polls said they would vote for her because their own financial situations have improved as the country’s economy continues its longest spell of economic growth in history. Voters also said they supported Fernandez because she’s best able to govern, which in Argentina often requires keeping union, corporate and social-movement leaders in line.
Fernandez can win with as little as 40 percent of the vote if none of her rivals comes within 10 percentage points of her, but the latest polls suggested she could capture between 52 percent and 57 percent of votes. The surveys had error margins of plus or minus three percentage points.
If those trends hold, Fernandez could receive a larger share of votes than any president since Argentina’s democracy was restored in 1983, when Raul Alfonsin was elected with 52 percent. She could even approach the 60 percent of ballots that her populist hero, Juan Domingo Peron, won in his last two elections. Her Front for Victory coalition also hoped to regain enough seats in Congress to form new alliances and regain the control it lost in 2009.
Fernandez, 58, chose her youthful, guitar-playing, long-haired economy minister, Amado Boudou, as her running mate. Together, the pair championed Argentina’s approach to the global financial crisis: Increase government spending rather than impose austerity measures, and force investors in foreign debt to suffer before ordinary citizens.
Argentina has been closed off from most international lending since declaring its world-record debt default in 2001, but has been able to sustain booming growth ever since.
The country faces tough challenges in 2012, however. Its commodities exports are vulnerable to a global recession, and economic growth is forecast to slow sharply in the coming year. Declining revenues will make it harder to raise incomes to keep up with inflation. Trade with the economic powerhouse of Brazil is all-important, but with the Brazilian real rising and the Argentine peso falling, there will be more pressure on Argentina’s central bank to spend reserves to maintain the currency.
If his ticket wins, Boudou could win attention as a potential successor to Fernandez, but navigating these storms will require much skill and good fortune.
The president’s rivals are Hermes Binner, 68, a doctor and socialist governor of Santa Fe province; Ricardo Alfonsin, 59, a lawyer and congressional deputy with the traditional Radical Civic Union party and son of the former president; Alberto Rodriguez Saa, 52, an attorney and governor of San Luis province whose brother Adolfo was president for a week; Eduardo Duhalde, who preceded Kirchner as president; leftist former lawmaker Jorge Altamira, 69; and Elisa Carrio 54, a congresswoman who came in second behind Fernandez four years ago but trailed the field this time.
Also at stake in the election are 130 seats in the lower house of congress, 24 senate seats and nine governor’s offices as well as hundreds of local races.
Voting is obligatory in Argentina, and nearly 29 million citizens among the 40 million population are registered.