Kirchner Improves Support Base in Congress

(International Relations and Security Network, 24/10/2005)


Argentine President Nestor Kirchner managed to strengthen his support base in the Congress when final results from weekend elections showed his backers took control of the Senate and became the largest bloc in the lower house.


Results released on Monday had Kirchner allies winnings 40 of 72 seats in the Senate and taking about 100 seats out of 257 in the lower house, still well short of a majority but a boon for the president nonetheless.


The new Congress commences in December.


The mid-term elections were seen as a test of the president's popularity as he prepares his reelection bid in two years.


Kirchner assumed office in 2003 amid Argentina's worst financial crisis in decades, which left millions jobless. Since then, he has presided over marked economic improvement and a reduction in unemployment.


The victories for his allies should allow him to push for more social spending and reforms that would make him popular with voters come time for presidential elections. However some analysts speculate that the results from Sunday's election don't necessary guarantee Kirchner a smooth ride until then.


"This will help Kirchner in the second half of his mandate, but he will still need to be able to forge the alliances to pass his projects," said Argentine analyst Rosendo Fraga. "It is yet to be seen where that support will come from."


Other analysts contend the president is riding an artificial high of sorts based on the economy's perceived improvement among Argentines following its collapse in late 2001, when thousands took the streets in protest and dozens were killed, prompting then-President Fernando de la Rua to resign.


"The economy buoys the administration's electoral position because the economy's deep structural problems are not understood by the Argentine public and the problem of inflation has not become serious enough to affect the people," Argentine economist Agustin Monteverde told ISN Security Watch.


Meanwhile, former Argentine president, Carlos Menem, who many blame for Argentina's economic collapse following his decade in power during the 1990's, won a Senate seat representing his home province of La Rioja.


Kirchner and Menem were once allies, both hailing from the Peronist Party. But the former split from the Peronists in 2003 to run against Menem, forming his own Victory Party. This movement split the Peronist into two factions, forcing members and lawmakers to align themselves with Menem or the new candidate Kirchner.


Formerly a governor from Argentina's Santa Cruz province, Kirchner arrived on the national stage with the support of then-President Eduardo Duhalde.


But over the last few months, Kirchner and Duhalde made a very public split, criticizing each other for their respective support for various candidates, which included both men's wives.

Cristina Fernandez Kirchner won 44 per cent of the vote in mid-term elections while Hilda "Chichi" Duhalde took second place with 19.7 per cent of the vote.


Both will represent Buenos Aires province, considered the most influential senatorial seats in the Argentine Congress.