Female race in macho country: Women lead Argentine vote


Buenos Aires : Argentina is a poster country for macho culture. However, Sunday’s presidential election will almost certainly see an end to that male dominance, at least in politics.

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According to the latest opinion polls, there is almost no doubt that a woman will occupy the Argentine presidential palace, the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, when outgoing President Nestor Kirchner leaves.

The choice appears to be between the elegant, centre-left Cristina Fernandez, 54, and wife of President Kirchner, and the rougher centrist candidate Elisa Carrio, 50.

The campaign has been generally un-enticing and Argentines remain apathetic about the upcoming vote.

The main reason is that the current first lady – who would rather be called the “first citizen” – and long-time senator commands up to 45 percent of the vote in opinion polls, virtually out of the reach of all her rivals.

The wife of Peronist President Kirchner, who likes to be described as “a new Evita” or “a Hillary Clinton of the south,” vows to maintain the successful economic policy of her husband and to deepen his social reforms.

Kirchner’s record over four years in office is impressive in many aspects. The economy has grown at rates more characteristic of China, the unemployment rate went down from some 25 percent to around 7 percent and the national budget has a surplus.

Both the trade unions and the business community appear satisfied. Volkswagen, for one, announced just before the election – in the presence of Fernandez – an investment of $316 million for the production of a new pick-up truck.

Carrio cannot count on such campaign assistance. This ever-rebellious politician, dyed blonde and who likes to make fun of her own corpulence, is likely to get an estimated 20 percent of the vote, according to opinion polls.

She is favoured by many Argentines who resent the current government’s Peronist – meaning they identify with Argentina’s former popular leader Juan Peron – roots, and above all what they perceive as its authoritarian slant.

In a recent press conference, Carrio, who always has a rosary at hand, said “there is a very high probability” of a second round of voting, four weeks after the first.

Any candidate could avoid a runoff by claiming 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a lead of more than 10 percentage points above the second-placed candidate.

Of the male candidates, only the centrist Roberto Lavagna – Kirchner’s finance minister for more than two years – can get anywhere near Fernandez and Carrio, with around 10 percent in opinion polls.

The campaigns have uneven resources. While Fernandez can count on the state machine to brace her candidacy, Carrio has substantially greater difficulty to make herself heard among all Argentines.

The president’s wife is so certain of constant media space that – like Kirchner – she gives no interviews or press conferences.

“One can only afford that if they have the state behind them,” said the critical journalist Maria O’Donnell in her book Propaganda K.

The South American country was never ruled by a directly elected female president, although the near-mythical Evita played a prominent role in government alongside her husband, president Juan Peron until her death in 1952.

Peron’s third wife, Maria Estela Martinez, served as his vice president 1973-74, and succeeded the Argentine leader in the presidency when he died in 1974. After two years of severe political and economic unrest, she was brought down by a military coup – the onset of a bloody dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983 and led to the death or disappearance of around 30,000 people.

The gender question is hardly playing a part in the current campaign. Neither Fernandez nor Carrio have made it an issue, and their male rivals do not mention it either.

When asked whether she was happy that Argentina would soon be ruled by a woman, Carrio admitted the innuendo and replied with a curt “yes.”