Argentina Elections: A Tale of Two Peronists

In an atomized poll, Carlos Menem and Nestor Kirchner secured a place in the runoff for presidency
For the first time in Argentina's history, a runoff will be necessary to elect a President. Carlos Menem, President of Argentina between 1989 and 1999, took 24% of the vote, followed by Nestor Kirchner, Gov. of Santa Cruz Province, who obtained 22% of voices. As neither Menem nor Kirchner reached the 45% needed to win in the first round, they will meet in the runoff scheduled for May 18.

Despite he fact that both candidates come from the old Peronist party, they represent two opposite views on internal and world affairs. While Menem's program is based on the same neo-liberal policies implemented in the nineties and a strong alignment to Washington in foreign policy, Nestor Kirchner calls for a mixture of neo-keynesianism in economics and a pro-Latin American approach on foreign affairs.

The results of the elections became known shortly after the closing of voting posts by 6 p.m. local time. However the national government, main Kirchner's support, knew about the good results of its candidate some hours before. The government was afraid about the  third candidate in dispute, Ricardo Lopez Murphy, leader of the conservative coalition Recrear, who finally obtained 17% of the votes, four less than Kirchner. Elisa Carrio, leader of the center-left coalition, Argentineans for a Republic of Equals, obtained almost 15% of votes finishing in the fourth place, while the third peronist candidate, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa finished fifth, with 14%.

There were no celebrations in Buenos Aires after the results were made known by all TV networks. In fact, there was not too much to celebrate, as everything will be decided in the runoff. However, there is a lot to analyze.

First, it is very difficult to explain how the ex-president Carlos Menem reached the first place, when only 16 months ago he was under house arrest facing charges of corruption and weapons trafficking. Many said at that time that he was out of the game. However, after the 2001 turmoil, many people saw in Menem a chance to come back to the stability of the nineties. Menem's supporters are mainly in the upper classes linked to the financial businesses, and the impoverished people of the big cities.

"I voted for Menem because I know he did it wrong during his stay in office, but I trust him and he will help us this time", Maria, a 62-year old woman resident of La Matanza, one of the poorest areas in Buenos Aires' outskirts told PRAVDA.Ru. Menem voters in the lower classes believe he can make miracles to take Argentina out of its worst-ever social crisis. Poverty in Argentina went up 20% since Menem left office in 1999; however, the poor results of country's economy have much to do with the policies implemented during Menem's stay in power.

During the last week, a lot happened in Argentina to secure Nestor Kirchner a place in the runoff. Since Kirchner obtained the support of the official line within the Peronist party and, specifically, from President Eduardo Duhalde, opinion polls showed him in the second place after Menem. However, since last Sunday, a number of doubtful opinion polls began to announce a different scenario, in which Kirchner was the third after Ricardo Lopez Murphy, an economist with strong links to the financial market and the world of business. Therefore, the possibility of a runoff scenario with two pro-market candidates scared both the Government and the fragmented center-left electorate, which moved its vote to Kirchner, because he was the only progressive candidate with chances to win and stop Lopez Murphy. Also, Elisa Carrio obtained more votes leaving behind Rodriguez Saa, who could not seize enough votes in the big cities.

This turn frustrates, in principle, Menem's chance to come back to power for the third time, as will have to do the battle against an encouraged Kirchner backed by half of the Peronist party, the national government, and the strong middle class, impoverished after Menem's policies of the nineties.

As usual, the election in Argentina was decided in the last week. Two candidates from the same party will be in the runoff and then, Argentineans will have to choose between two opposite programs: the neo-liberal, led by Carlos Menem and a mixture of public inversion with national industrialization, represented by Nestor Kirchner. Analysts say a Le Pen-Chirac scenario could take place on May, taking into account the anti-Menem spirit among the electorate. However, that's another story.

A war of declarations, eyeing on May's runoff

"The runoff will be formal procedure, as we are going to win by far", said Menem in a statement from his headquarters at "Presidente" Hotel in the center of Buenos Aires.

"We trust Argentineans will choose a program based on the national production and the accurate administration on public accounts", told reporters Nestor Kirchner, from his offices in Rio Gallegos, Capital city of Santa Cruz Province, in Argentina's far South.

"We thank our followers for their support. We did a great election without financial resources. We are not going to make alliances but we are not going to vote for Menem", said Elisa Carrio in a statement after announcing her will to build a broader center-left force across the country.

"Despite the crisis, Argentina found its way to a peaceful presidential race, thanks to the compromise of President Duhalde, who promised clear elections and paved the way toward the normalization of our institutions", said Argentina's Minister of Economy, Roberto Lavagna, who lately supported Nestor Kirchner on his battle against Menem.

Photo: Two to tango, two for President. Nestor Kirchner (left) and Carlos Menem will fight in the finals to rule Argentina for the next four years.

Author`s name Michael Simpson