ELECTIONS: Argentina’s next swap

09/10/2010 | Vinod Sreeharsha

Artemio Lopez, one of the official pollsters for the Kirchners, says that his latest poll in August gives Néstor Kirchner 35% of the votes in Buenos Aires province, one of the key battlegrounds, as it makes up 40% of the country’s votes. The closest challenger, Ricardo Alfonsin, had 12%.

Kirchner would need to top 40% in the first round of voting with at least a 10-point margin to avoid a runoff, where he is most vulnerable. Asked why he polled Néstor Kirchner rather than Fernández de Kirchner, he says: “That’s who the
government asked me to poll.” Lopez adds that he thinks the current president will step down in next year’s elections and pass the baton back to her husband. “He wants to do it,” says Lopez, who spent three hours with Kirchner days before he was hospitalized for heart surgery in September, and postop was one of his first visitors. The pollster considers the changeover achievable.

Lopez acknowledges that the Kirchners have their work cut out for them, saying that, “there is a certain fatigue factor.” He adds that “there are a lot of people who do not like their style and form of governing.” But there is support for their policies, several of which enjoy backing in the 70–80% range, even though their approval as politicians is in the 30s.
Most pollsters show that the Kirchners have recovered from their lows last year, aided by the economy and a largely
dysfunctional opposition that has yet to come forward with a leader. The Kirchners are desperate to stay in power in a way that few others share; an intangible that cannot be underestimated. For example, Carlos Reutemann, once thought to be a strong opposition candidate, appears to be indifferent about whether he even wants to be a contender.

Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri was once the politician most feared by the Kirchners, according to Lopez. But Macri has now been caught on two occasions travelling in Europe when major crises in Buenos Aires have broken out, reinforcing the image many have that he has been an ineffective mayor.

Analysts speculate that Ricardo Alfonsin, a national legislator and son of Raul Alfonsin, Argentina’s first president after democracy was restored following the last dictatorship, might run together with Hermes Binner, although it is unclear which one would be first on the ticket. Binner has the advantage that few opposition leaders have in that he is actually in charge of something, one of the country’s most important provinces, Santa Fe. He was the first member of the Socialist Party to be elected governor of a province. Before that he was mayor at Rosario, an important port city.

Binner has been less confrontational with the Kirchners than other opposition leaders, and even supported them on some measures, most notably last year’s media reform law that sought to break up the country’s most powerful media conglomerate, Clarin and escalated the war between the Kirchners and Clarin. Binner polls poorly now (Alfonsin does somewhat better) and having sided against Clarin may hurt him with local media coverage. He is one of many who think that one of the Kirchners’ biggest challenges may be in regaining the left’s vote.

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