Argentineans Apathetic As Elections Are Underway - 9 April, 2003

As the country enters into the final stages of the first elections after the popular rebellion of December 2001, candidates cannot make the people talk about them. In bars and restaurants, friends, students and clerks join to exchange ideas about what is going on in Baghdad, but not many spend their free time talking about the election campaign.

Apathy has gained Argentineans' hearths, as local politicians face a low profile political campaign. Besides, newspapers' headlines pay more attention to the war in Iraq than to the candidates.

Mario Wainfeld is the Editor-in-chief of the politics section of one of the largest national newspapers, Pagina 12. He is one of the most influential Argentine journalist, but since the US-led invasion to Iraq was launched, he is given less and less space to fill it with information about the candidates.

"I have to beg directors for two pages to tell about the election campaign", complains Wainfeld, as sees how the foreign affairs section takes more and more space. "The Argentine reader wants to be informed about the war and looses interest on the election campaign", he says.

No question, Marcelo Cantelmi is more enthusiastic. He is the Editor-in-chief of the International section of Clarin, Argentine largest newspaper. "I always have to beg for space, now I have all the pages that I want", says the former Reuters correspondent in Buenos Aires.

Moreover, TV networks try to satisfy people's demand providing audience with fresh news about the war. Although the elections will take place in three weeks, opinion leaders and analysts find more attractive the reports from Baghdad than the ones from Buenos Aires.

For instance, last Wednesday there was a multitudinous event in Buenos Aires backing official candidate, Nestor Kirchner. However, Thursday's newspaper gave little space to him, even when Mr. Kirchner is at the head of the polls. On the contrary, full coverage about the war was offered. Kirchner is one of the three authorized Peronist Party candidates participating in the April 27 election, but the only one who has the backing of President Eduardo Duhalde.

By the way, Argentine candidates fight each other about what position has to be taken on the US-led war in Iraq. They take into account that 95% of Argentine population is against the war, so they try to get votes by condemning the military actions. In his speech Wednesday night on the River Plate Stadium, Kirchner repudiated the US war against Iraq and declared, "we don't want to do good business with bloody hands," an allusion to Argentina's participation in the 1991 Gulf War under Menem's ruling. Menem also runs for President and enjoys a second place at the polls followed by Adolfo Rodriguez Saa.

According to analysts, as of now, none of the hopefuls have enough votes for victory, in which case, the second round will be May 18. However, as long as the war goes on, Argentine public opinion will keep on finding more interesting news from Iraq than from the boring local election campaign.

Hernan Etchaleco

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