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Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández suffered a major setback in congress in midterm elections on Sunday, putting an end to her ambitions to be re-elected in the 2015 presidential polls.
Although it did not lose its congressional majority, the president’s ruling coalition won just 32.8 per cent of the national vote with 95.5 per cent of the votes counted, compared with Ms Fernández’s victory in the 2011 presidential elections with 54 per cent of the vote.
The result is expected to spark a bitter struggle for succession within the dominant Peronist movement after Ms Fernández’s party failed to secure the two-thirds majority in congress that she needed to amend the constitution and stand for a third presidential term.
With half of the seats in the chamber of deputies and a third of the seats in the senate at stake, Ms Fernández’s coalition suffered a particularly stinging defeat in the populous province of Buenos Aires, where the dissident mayor of Tigre, Sergio Massa, beat the government’s candidate by more than 11 percentage points.
“In just 120 days, a path to the future has been born for our province – and, why not say it, for the country too,” said Mr Massa in his victory speech, referring to the brief period since he broke from the government in June, and hinting at his designs on the presidency.
After his resounding victory, Mr Massa is now tipped as a strong competitor in the 2015 presidential race, with traditional opposition politicians also throwing their hats into the ring on Sunday. Emboldened by his party’s victory in Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, mayor of Argentina’s capital city, made his presidential bid official. “The time has come,” he told cheering supporters.
Meanwhile, the government was quick to point out that the president’s Front for Victory party remains Argentina’s leading political force, winning the most votes nationwide, and maintaining its majority in both houses of congress.
We are very happy that the president is getting better every day. She is preparing to return with all her strength
- Amado Boudou, vice-president of Argentina
Critics point out that this is only because the opposition remains deeply fractured. In fact, Ms Fernández’s party came in second or third place in the most populous provinces of the country, as well as the capital city.
Ms Fernández was unable to campaign during the elections after undergoing surgery three weeks ago to relieve a bloodclot on her brain. Vice-president Amado Boudou, who is also serving as acting president, assured government supporters that she was recovering.
“We are very happy that the president is getting better every day. She is preparing to return with all her strength and to continue building this project,” he said at a post-election rally.
Ms Fernández’s son Máximo Kirchner, who is considered to be one of her closest confidantes but keeps a low profile, told reporters with a smile when he voted on Sunday that he did not know when she would return to the public arena. She has not been seen since her October 8 operation, after which doctors ordered her to rest for at least 30 days.
The big question now being asked is how Ms Fernández will react to the new political situation when she returns. Her approval ratings have plunged since she was re-elected to a second term in 2011, as Argentines become increasingly discontented with high inflation, rising crime and corruption.