May 7, 2020 / 11:17 AM / in 22 days

Coronavirus bump: Argentina's Fernandez rises in polls over handling of COVID-19

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Alberto Fernandez is rising in the polls on public approval of the way he has handled the country’s response to the spread of COVID-19, buttressing his political clout as he faces off against creditors with a major debt revamp.

FILE PHOTO: Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez looks on during the session of the 138th legislative term at the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

Argentina is in a nationwide lockdown, which has been extended until at least May 10, helping slow the spread of new confirmed COVID-19 cases, which total just over 5,000. That is far less than in nearby Chile, Peru or Brazil.

The center-left Peronist, who rose from relative obscurity to take the presidency last year, is at the same time steering the country through tense negotiations to restructure around $65 billion in foreign debt and escape from a lengthy and painful recession.

In April his positive rating jumped to 68.5% from 56.8% when he came to office in December, said local consultancy Trespuntozero. Another poll from Ricardo Rouvier Associates put him at 67.6% versus 56.5% in late 2019.

“His handling of the (coronavirus) issue is seen as very good,” said analyst Ricardo Rouvier, adding that as long as there were no negative surprises it would leave Fernandez in a good position to push forward with any reform plans.

(Graphic: Argentina coronavirus cases - here)

The death toll stands at around 270 as of Wednesday.

Analysts put down his rise in the polls squarely to the coronavirus response, even though it has crimped the country’s fragile economy. A survey by local consultancy Management & Fit said 83% of Argentina’s approved of his handling of the crisis.

This is bolstering his standing as the leader of a traditionally fragmented Peronist ruling party, in which his deputy Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - a populist former two-term president - still holds huge influence and sway.

“I think the balance for the president ends up being good, because in these 30 or 40 days of quarantine, he was able to build his leadership and a link with citizens,” said Shila Vilker, director of Trespuntozero.

Vilker added that the “high drama” of the virus outbreak had burnished Fernandez’s image as a efficient decision maker, but that ironically his popularity could wane again as the crisis subsides and the economic toll lingers.

“That could loosen people’s emotional attachment.”

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Adam Jourdan and David Gregorio

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