Argentina’s ruling Peronists dominate midterm vote, president’s wife wins Senate seat |

Argentina’s ruling Peronists dominate midterm vote, president’s wife wins Senate seat

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s ruling party dominated midterm elections seen as a test of President Nestor Kirchner’s two-year-old government, with his Peronist party picking up support in Congress and his wife winning a Senate seat, according to official results Monday.But the surprise of Sunday’s vote for seats in the Senate and House of Representative was the victory of conservative soccer entrepreneur Mauricio Macri in the race for the House seat in Buenos Aires.The win by Macri, who is president of the famed Boca Juniors soccer club, sets him up as a possible opposition leader to take on the center-left Kirchner.Sunday’s elections filled 24 of 72 Senate seats and 127 of the 256 House seats, and was seen as referendum on Kirchner’s administration.Official results released Monday showed Kirchner’s wife, Cristina, winning the highest-profile Senate race by a lopsided margin of 25 percentage points over her closest Peronist rival, Hilda “Chiche” Duhalde.The two women had waged a mudslinging campaign for months as each claimed the right to the true mantle of Eva “Evita” Peron, who with her husband, late military strongman Juan Domingo Peron, had launched the Peronist movement on behalf of Argentina’s working poor in the mid-20th century.All told, the president claimed victory in 21 of the 24 Senate races and picked up dozens of new House Seats to reach a total of 115 – still shy of the 129 seats needed for an absolute majority.A once obscure governor from remote Patagonia, Kirchner leaped onto the national stage in May 2003 after the deepest Argentine economic crisis on record, winning the presidency with just 22 percent of the vote.He has since spent more than two years managing a gargantuan debt default and other remnants of the crisis while working to build a national power base, hinting he might seek re-election once his term ends in 2007.He has given the state a greater role in the economy while maintaining high popular poll ratings, and Sunday’s election results have strengthened his hand.The emergence of Macri as a strong opponent in the capital threw a wild card into the Argentine political scene.Macri soundly won Buenos Aires’ House of Representatives race with nearly 34 percent of the vote. Kirchner’s candidate, Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa, placed third out of 13 candidates.Macri insisted he wanted to breathe new life into Argentine politics.”We want to change the way of doing politics,” the newspaper La Nacion quoted Macri as saying. “The opposition has to demonstrate to the people that it’s an alternative for Argentina to move forward.”With Kirchner flexing new political muscle, Macri will have to work quickly to spread an alternative message if the opposition hopes to seriously contest presidential elections in 2007, analysts said.Argentina’s other traditional opposition force, the Radicals, have been in disarray since a deep economic crisis in 2001-2002 and independent opponents of Peronism remain divided among minor parties.Kirchner and his wife Cristina leveraged the country’s nostalgia for “Evita” Peron in her victorious campaign for the Senate.Hilda Duhalde also claimed her faction of the large and squabbling Peronist party is the true representative of Juan Peron’s legacy.

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