BUENOS AIRES, April 27 (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has a huge lead in the polls six months from a presidential election in which she is widely expected to seek a second term in office.
No one has emerged as a strong potential challenger and opposition efforts are intensifying to forge alliances that could have a chance of beating her on Oct 23. For a factbox of leading opposition candidates, click on [ID:nN26275249].
Candidacies are often announced at the last minute in Argentina, but under a new election law that sets primaries for August, politicians must register by June 25 to run.
Following are possible scenarios for the coming months of the electoral race in Latin America’s No. 3 economy:
If polls continue to show Fernandez widening her lead in the run-up to the vote, that could encourage her to announce her re-election bid before the June deadline. Most political analysts think she will run, reflecting a commitment to continue the policies introduced by her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, as of 2003.
Recent polls give her a formidable lead over her closest rival — Radical party congressman Ricardo Alfonsin — suggesting she would easily win a first-round vote, possibly avoiding a run-off. Under Argentine law, candidates win outright in the first round if they get at least 40 percent of the vote with a 10 point lead over the runner-up.
A first-round victory is guaranteed with 45 percent of ballots, something that looks possible if she avoids controversy ahead of the vote and if the opposition fails to forge compelling alliances. With economic growth strong and the opposition in disarray, the main risk to Fernandez’s approval ratings is an unpopular policy decision or a sudden outbreak of social or labor-related unrest.
However, she will likely delay any controversial reforms, such as slashing utility subsidies, until after the election. Her choice of a running-mate could also prove crucial, especially as labor leaders such as Hugo Moyano push for her to pick a unionist to be her vice president. Leftist allies would likely resist any moves to increase Moyano’s influence. [ID:nN22178023]
Six months from election day, this seems the least likely scenario. However, Fernandez is still mourning the death of her influential husband last year and some critical local media have suggested family pressures or health concerns could lead her to step aside and anoint a successor. She suffers from low blood pressure and has canceled several recent engagements.
In the days after Kirchner’s death, Fernandez vowed to further his political legacy and so far she has remained true to the couple’s unorthodox mix of state economic intervention and combative political discourse. Economic analysts, however, point to a number of brewing problems in Latin America’s No. 3 economy, not least double-digit inflation that threatens to cancel out the benefit of robust economic growth for many Argentine consumers and exporters. Fear that support for her government could unravel in a second term might also discourage her from seeking re-election.
Her choices of a potential successor appear limited. Fewer still would win resounding approval from all her supporters. The most obvious choice would be moderate Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli, a loyal ally who is popular and espouses more business-friendly policies. Scioli does not appeal to Kirchner’s leftist supporters, but he is consistently ranked as one of the country’s most popular politicians and would have a good chance of getting elected.
Radical party Congressman Ricardo Alfonsin is the clearest challenger to Fernandez from the center-left and will likely lead any alliance strong enough to erode the president’s poll advantage. He has indicated he will not consider forming pacts with right-leaning politicians such as Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri — another presidential contender who tends to poll in third place just behind Alfonsin. An alliance with former President Eduardo Duhalde, a centrist dissident Peronist might be more acceptable to Alfonsin, but it could be resisted by smaller leftist parties including the Socialists and GEN. They have already expressed doubts about allying with popular congressman Francisco de Narvaez, a dissident Peronist who plans to run as governor of Buenos Aires province. If Alfonsin opts for a deal with Peronist figures, the leftists could pull out and seek an alternative accord with Proyecto Sur, a party led by left-wing film director and lawmaker Pino Solanas.
On the other hand, Alfonsin could boost his poll ratings if he confirms a well-known and respected politician as his running-mate. Socialist Hermes Binner, governor of Santa Fe province, has been mentioned as a possible option although he may harbor his own presidential ambitions.
Macri, a millionaire who ran leading soccer club Boca Juniors, has long been seen as the great hope of the government’s right-wing opponents and he could still be a main player in a center-right pact to tackle Fernandez in October. However, a power struggle within his PRO party threatens to hurt his chances of maintaining control over the Buenos Aires city government in a July election, increasing the likelihood that he will back out of the presidential race to concentrate on the mayoral vote. Macri forged a successful alliance with dissident Peronists during the June 2009 mid-term election, which dealt Kirchner a stinging defeat in Buenos Aires province, suggesting a similar pact could be possible. If Macri were to step aside, he might be willing to yield his presidential candidacy to one of the dissident Peronists, though Duhalde would be a tricky choice due to his high rejection rating among voters. Another possible partner might be former government ally Felipe Sola, another centrist Peronist, but a Macri-Sola accord would not be as likely to pose a serious threat to Fernandez. Sola does not have the same Peronist party clout as Duhalde and Macri would probably need a figure with a hefty nationwide support base to build on his solid base in the capital. The Alfonsin camp’s rejection of his call for a broad opposition alliance could leave Macri isolated unless he can team up with the dissident Peronists. (Writing by Helen Popper, editing by Anthony Boadle)