Argentine voters support Nestor Kirchner

Although his name wasn't on the ballot, President Nestor Kirchner emerged from Argentina's midterm elections Sunday as a big winner, celebrating the Senate victories of both his wife and sister as his political party more than doubled its power in Congress.

Kirchner had characterized the election as a chance for the public to pass judgment on his presidency, which began two years ago after a massive economic collapse threw the country into social and political turmoil.

Kirchner has helped lead Argentina out of recession and into a third consecutive year of economic growth. At the same time, the Peronist Party, which has dominated Argentine politics for 50 years, has been split by a power struggle between Kirchner and former president Eduardo Duhalde.

That rivalry was clearly laid out for voters in the race for the country's most prominent Senate seat, in Buenos Aires province, where the wives of the two men were pitted against each other. Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, representing her husband's recently formed Peronist Victory Front, got more than twice as many votes as Hilda Gonzalez Duhalde, who represented the traditional Peronist Party. The victory was as symbolic as it was decisive.

"We're very pleased because we have received enormous backing from the whole country," Fernandez Kirchner said during a radio interview on Monday. "It was almost a referendum on all of our efforts." Though her political fate is naturally linked with her husband's, Fernandez Kirchner had been a political power long before her husband became president, serving as a senator for the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz.

Also on Sunday, Alicia Kirchner, sister of the president, reclaimed the Santa Cruz seat for the family, sailing to an easy victory. In the lower house of Congress, Kirchner's party increased its seats from 40 to about 100 in the 257-member chamber.

Another former president, Carlos Menem, finished second in the Senate race for La Rioja province, 11 points behind the Kirchner-backed candidate. Although the second-place finish will earn him a seat in the two-member Senate district, his weak showing was considered another symbolic victory for Kirchner. Menem, the president from 1989 to 1999, ran against Kirchner in the first round of the 2003 presidential election, beating him by 2 percentage points. But Menem dropped out when opinion polls showed him trailing Kirchner in a second-round runoff, reports Washington Post. I.L.

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