BUENOS AIRES, April 27 (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has a wide lead in the polls, but she is keeping the country guessing as to whether she will seek re-election in presidential elections six months away.
Candidacies are often announced at the last minute in Argentina and Fernandez is widely expected to be the ruling party’s candidate in the Oct. 23 vote.
Under a new election law that sets primaries for August, politicians have until June 25 to register their candidacies but opposition contenders have already started campaigning and staging somewhat chaotic early primaries. [ID:nN26210915]
Following are brief profiles of some of the most prominent possible contenders:
Fernandez’s approval ratings shot up to about 50 percent after the death late last year of her powerful husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, boosted by public sympathy and nostalgia for the best years of his 2003-2007 government. Sizzling economic growth that clocked 9.2 percent in 2010 and the opposition’s disarray have also driven the stunning recovery of her approval ratings from lows of 20 percent following a messy conflict with farmers in 2008. Some polls suggest she would win in a first round if the election were held now, but six months is plenty of time for things to change in the stormy world of Argentine politics. Fernandez has broadly maintained her unorthodox economic policy course since the death of Kirchner, who was widely seen as her de facto economy minister. That is unlikely to change in the run-up to the vote, but she could be forced to tackle double-digit inflation if re-elected. So far, union leader Hugo Moyano and other prominent Peronist party leaders such as moderate Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli have backed Fernandez. In the unlikely case that Fernandez decides not to run, the well-known and popular Scioli would likely be the ruling party candidate.
Alfonsin, a congressman, rose to prominence following the death two years ago of his famous father, former president Raul Alfonsin, who led Argentina between 1983 and 1989. He trails Fernandez a distant second in most opinion polls. Alfonsin has emerged as the strongest candidate in the fragmented social democratic Radical party (UCR). In the absence of a clear, strong challenger to Fernandez, Alfonsin is the focus of efforts to forge a broad opposition alliance. He is already allied with several smaller leftist parties, but he has ruled out making pacts with right-leaning politicians such as Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri. A deal with former President Eduardo Duhalde, a member of the dissident Peronist party wing, might be more acceptable to Alfonsin. Alfonsin has criticized the government over double-digit inflation and persistent income inequality. He vows to make government more transparent and accountable. Working against him is the Radical party’s poor governing record -- the last Radical president to finish his term was Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear in 1928. [ID:nN31249869]
Alfonsin will benefit from the decision of rebel Vice President Julio Cobos to drop out of the race. Another Radical party rival, Sen. Ernesto Sanz, also appears to be wavering.
A millionaire who used to run one of Argentina’s largest soccer clubs, center-right Macri favors more market-friendly policies than the current government. Although he was seen as the biggest threat to the government’s bid for another term, Macri has failed to make significant headway beyond the capital and trails Fernandez in a distant second or third place in most opinion polls. Macri, who favors free-market economic policies and a private role in public services, has led calls for a broad opposition alliance, hinting he would be willing to give up his presidential ambitions. His PRO party is struggling to find a successor to him to run in the capital’s mayoral elections on July 10, risking defeat by a pro-government candidate. He says he is committed to the presidential race, but many commentators say he could seek re-election as mayor if his allies are seen losing control of city hall. Macri’s party has little presence outside the capital and he would have to forge alliances with dissident Peronists or other smaller parties to gain momentum outside Buenos Aires. [ID:nN01124854]
Duhalde, who governed briefly as Argentina emerged from an acute 2001-02 economic crisis, was once a backer of Kirchner, but they fell out and he now leads a breakaway Peronist faction that has crumbled amid infighting over the presidential candidacy. Duhalde is a centrist and an influential figure in Peronism because of his links with powerful mayors in the working-class suburbs of Buenos Aires. He has said his government would boost investment in industry and that former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, the architect of Argentina’s 2005 debt restructuring, would play a key role. Duhalde started contesting an early primary election in the dissident wing with San Luis Governor Alberto Rodriguez Saa, but the process collapsed, casting further doubt on who will run. Another dissident Peronist who could stand is former government ally Congressman Felipe Sola. Working against Duhalde is his high rejection rating -- 49.6 percent in a March Management & Fit poll -- meaning he might find it hard to steal many Peronist votes from Fernandez or convince Alfonsin’s supporters of the merits of an electoral alliance.
Anti-corruption crusader Carrio came in second in the 2007 presidential election behind Fernandez, but she has lost ground since then, hurt by a series of rows with political allies and public impatience with her apocalyptic warnings of impending doom. A lawyer who hails from the poor northern province of Chaco, congresswoman Carrio is a sharp-tongued critic of the government and has recently taken aim at union leader Moyano. She is accompanied by former Central Bank governor Alfonso Prat Gay. A pact with her estranged Radical party allies would make sense from an ideological perspective, but past rows could hamper deal-making. According to consultants Management & Fit, she has the second-highest rejection rating among leading politicians after Duhalde.
Maverick provincial governor Rodriguez Saa, a member of the dissident Peronist wing, has dominated politics in his home province of San Luis with his brother for years. Adolfo Rodriguez Saa served as president for a week during Argentina’s 2001-02 economic and political meltdown and declared a roughly $100 billion sovereign debt default. Polls show Alberto as an outsider, but he could attract conservative Peronist votes, especially if Duhalde ends up forging an alliance with other groups. Rodriguez Saa, an art-lover and green crusader, advocates a tough line on crime and says he would work to bring down inflation, restore credibility to the INDEC statistics institute and limit state intervention in the economy, especially farming. (Writing by Helen Popper, editing by Anthony Boadle)