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Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez votes in today's general election. She is expected to win with an overall majority of votes cast. Francisco Munoz/AP
Race for the Casa

We're not the only country with a seven-way presidential election, you know

Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez – the wife of her late predecessor – is set to be re-elected, boosted by a booming economy.

ARGENTINA’S INCUMBENT PRESIDENT Cristina Fernandez, aided by a booming economy, appeared to be headed for a landslide re-election victory over six rivals as polling continued today.

Her victory would make her the first woman re-elected as president in Latin America, but it also would be a bittersweet victory for the populist leader – her first in a lifetime of politics without her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who died of a heart attack last October 27.

Her voice almost broke as she spoke about this legacy, describing a mixture of pride and sorrow after casting her ballot in his hometown, the remote Patagonian city of Rio Gallegos.

“In this world where they have criticised us so forcefully, all this makes me feel very proud, that we’re on the right track,” she said. Kirchner “would be very content.”

Fernandez can win with as little as 40 per cent of the vote if none of her rivals come within 10 percentage points of her, but the latest polls suggested she could capture an overall majority, with between 52 per cent and 57 per cent of votes.

Her Front for Victory coalition also hopes to regain enough seats in the Argentine Congress – which can be likened to that of the United States – to form new alliances and regain the control it lost in 2009. At play are 130 lower house seats and 24 Senate seats.

Fernandez’s poll numbers had dipped during the early years of her presidency, but she has reversed the negative numbers as a widow, softening her usually combative tone and proving her ability to govern on her own by ensuring loyalty or respect from an unruly political elite.

Many Argentines in pre-election polls said they would vote for her because their financial situations have improved during one of its longest spells of economic growth in history.

Record margin

If 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 per cent, and more than anyone since her strongman hero Juan Peron, who won with 60 and 63 per cent in his last two elections.

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.

Opposition candidates have blamed Fernandez for rising inflation, for politically manipulated economic data, rising crime and attempts to use government power to control media criticism. They have also accused the government of failing to prepare Argentina for another global crisis.

“It’s not clear where the world is headed. It’s better to be prepared. This isn’t achieved with conflict, but through dialogue,” socialist Hermes Binner said as he voted. He was in second place in the last polls, with between 12 percent and 17 percent of the vote.

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Author
Associated Foreign Press
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