The wives of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and his predecessor, Eduardo Duhalde, are battling each other in a Senate race that may serve as a referendum on Kirchner's two-year-old government.
Hilda Duhalde, 59, a lower house deputy, is challenging Cristina Kirchner, a 52-year-old senator from Santa Cruz province. The women, who like their husbands are Peronist Party members, face voters in October in Buenos Aires province, Argentina's richest and most-populated.
The contest underscores a power struggle between Eduardo Duhalde and Nestor Kirchner for control of the Peronist Party, said Analia del Franco, a political analyst and director of Analogias, a Buenos Aires political and market research company. A win for Cristina Kirchner would help the president reassert his authority in the party and strengthen his position in Congress, said Sergio Berensztein, a professor of politics at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.
``Cristina and Chiche have no different proposals or different views about the country,'' said Manuel Mora y Araujo, president of consulting company Mora y Araujo y Asociados in Buenos Aires. ``What separates them is a fight for power for their husbands.''
Nestor Kirchner, who won election in 2003 with 22 percent of the vote, said on July 13 he views the election as a plebiscite on his government. Kirchner, who took office 16 months after Argentina defaulted on its obligations and devalued its currency, restructured $104 billion of debt and sparked two years of growth above 8 percent. He faces re-election in 2007.
``People will have to choose between the country that Kirchner received, with $8 billion in reserves, or this one, with $24 billion, if they want to live in a country in default or in this one,'' Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez said in an interview with the TodoNoticias television channel in Buenos Aires July 9.
Juan and Evita
Hilda Duhalde, a mother of five, said at a rally last week to start her campaign that she is running in defiance of the nation's president.
``Kirchner ordered me not to be a candidate, and yet here I am representing the province,'' she said in San Vicente, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Buenos Aires, where party founder Juan Peron and his wife Evita had a weekend home.
Cristina Kirchner, a mother of two, urged voters at a July 7 rally to back her husband's government so that he could build on his successes.
A survey of 740 people taken from June 15 to June 20 by Rouvier & Asociados in Buenos Aires shows Cristina Kirchner would win with 41 percent of the vote compared with 19 percent for Hilda Duhalde. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
``It's Kirchner's first real electoral test since being elected,'' said Ricardo Rouvier, director of the polling firm in Buenos Aires.
Before becoming president, Kirchner was governor of Santa Cruz, a province of 200,000 inhabitants in the windswept Patagonia region of southern Argentina. Cristina Kirchner has represented the province in the Senate since 2001. Her term expires this year.
The congressional elections are already affecting Argentina's economy, said Claudio Loser, a former director of the Western Hemisphere Department for the International Monetary Fund who now works as an economic consultant in Washington.
Kirchner has delayed measures, such as allowing utilities to increase their tariffs, until after the elections.
```What we see with some concern is that all the economic plans of the government are being delayed until October as the president is fully committed to the campaign,'' said Loser in a telephone interview from Washington.
On July 12, 60 of the 129 Peronist lower house deputies called on Jose Maria Diaz Bancalari, who is running on the same ticket as Hilda Duhalde for another seat in the Senate, to step down as leader of the house Peronist bloc. Peronists have held power for 14 of the past 16 years.
``The president needs to have fluid contact with the head of his party in Congress,'' said Congressman Daniel Gallo, a Kirchner supporter in Buenos Aires. ``Nowadays this is not happening.''
The party infighting may cause Kirchner to lose the support of lawmakers loyal to Eduardo Duhalde when he tries to pass legislation on utility price increases and annual budgets during the second half of his mandate, said Berensztein.
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