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Vote gauges appetite for Fernandez return

China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-14 08:47

BUENOS AIRES - Argentines voted on Sunday in a closely watched midterm primary election that will test their appetite for bringing back former president Cristina Fernandez.

Fernandez, who was indicted on a charge of corruption last year, is vying for a Senate seat in Buenos Aires province, home to nearly 40 percent of the country's voters. She is running against business-friendly President Mauricio Macri's former education minister and other candidates from a divided opposition.

Investors and wealthy Argentines fear a Fernandez comeback in Congress could pave the way to her running for president in 2019. Her return to power would likely mean the end of Macri's reforms and a resumption of rampant spending, protection of industry and isolation from trade agreements and international capital markets.

A seat in Congress would give the 64-year-old Fernandez immunity from arrest, though not from trial. She dismisses the corruption accusations as politically motivated.

The compulsory primary vote on Sunday will essentially serve as a detailed poll ahead of the Oct 22 election for one-third of the Senate and half the lower house of Congress, as no major candidates are being challenged from within their own parties.

Though her chosen successor lost to Macri in Buenos Aires province in 2015, Fernandez now appeals to many in its struggling industrial belt, where Argentina's emergence from recession in the second half of last year has yet to take hold.

The final weeks of primary campaigning were marked by repeated headlines highlighting gaffes from Esteban Bullrich, Macri's former education minister. On Wednesday he apologized for calling the jailing of young people "progress".

Bullrich had previously suggested craft beer as an alternative employment opportunity for Argentines who had lost their jobs and was criticized by feminists for a radical antiabortion stance.

Fernandez, who broke with Argentina's main opposition movement of Peronism for the election as some adherents form more moderate factions, meanwhile ran a relatively subdued campaign compared to her often fiery rhetoric and long speeches as president.

"We weren't always as humble as we should have been," she said of her presidency at her final rally.

No matter how many seats his "Let's Change" coalition picks up, Macri will still lack a majority in Congress and continue to need to build alliances to pass reforms.

An opponent like Fernandez representing the country's most powerful economic district could make that all the more difficult.

"If it wins Buenos Aires, the government will go into these negotiations strengthened, if it loses it will be much weaker," said analyst Rosendo Fraga.


(China Daily 08/14/2017 page11)

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