October 24, 2005

Kirchner scores win in Argentine midterm election

By Kevin Gray

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Argentine President
Nestor Kirchner strengthened his support in Congress during
legislative elections on Sunday, while his wife scored a
resounding victory in an important Senate race.

Cristina Kirchner defeated her opponent by some 25 points,
exit polls showed, helping to expand the left-of-center
president's political base in the country's largest province,
Buenos Aires.

"These people supported a model for the country that is
beginning to change the lives of Argentines," she told cheering
supporters in a victory speech. Kirchner gave up her Senate
seat in the president's native Santa Cruz province to run in
her home province of Buenos Aires.

Many candidates for other legislative offices backed by
Kirchner were also headed for wins, exit polls indicated.

The result was victory for the president, who had described
the balloting for half the seats in the lower house and a third
of the Senate as a plebiscite on his rule.

Final official results were expected on Monday.

The wins helped bolster Kirchner and his allies as power
brokers in Congress two years after he took office as a
political outsider with only 22 percent of the vote.

Osvaldo Nemirovsci, a congressman from Rio Negro province,
who supports the president, said Kirchner candidates appeared
to win about 40 percent of the 123 House seats up for grabs.

The contest in Buenos Aires province pitted Cristina
Kirchner against the wife of former President Eduardo Duhalde
in a battle between rival factions struggling for control of
the fractured governing Peronist Party.

Although official results were slow to trickle in, Duhalde
conceded defeat after exit polls by Argentine television showed
Kirchner holding a commanding lead of more than 20 percent.
Duhalde was still expected to win a seat as the second top
vote-getter under election laws.

In another prominent race, Mauricio Macri, a businessman
who leads Argentina's popular Boca Juniors soccer club,
finished first in the voting for a House seat in Buenos Aires,
beating Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa, backed by Kirchner.

Former President Carlos Menem also appeared set to win a
Senate seat in a bid to return to politics after a failed
presidential attempt two years ago. Early results showed him
running second but with enough votes to win a seat.


The vote was widely seen as a test of strength for
Kirchner, now halfway into his four-year term but still
enjoying approval ratings of about 50 percent as the economy
rebounds from a 2001-2002 economic crisis that saw a bruising
currency devaluation and record debt default.

A former governor of a remote Patagonian province, Kirchner
has won over Argentines with tough talk against the
International Monetary Fund and foreign investors, widely
blamed among Argentines for the crisis.

Kirchner campaigned for months before the vote, arguing
that his economic policies based on a weak currency and budget
surpluses had helped lead Argentina's recovery.

The economy is expected to expand by 7.8 percent this year
for a third straight year of growth. The economy grew by 9
percent in 2004 and 8.8 percent in 2003, rebounding from a 20
percent contraction during a 1999-2002 recession.

Kirchner's sister, Alicia, the social development minister,
was also headed for a Senate post representing Santa Cruz
province, early official results showed.

(Additional reporting by Damian Wroclavsky)