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Argentine election showdown: negative campaigns

June 26, 2009

Argentine electoral campaigns don’t go negative. They start negative and steadily crank up the intensity until the end.

This Sunday’s election showdown is a close race between ex-President Nestor Kirchner, running for Congress to bolster the faltering presidency of his wife Cristina Fernandez, and millionaire Francisco de Narvaez. They are both from different wings of the Peronist party and De Narvaez claims to want to make Argentina into a “normal” country that does business with the world instead of isolating itself and befriending extremists.

The stakes are high in the race between the two men, who are fighting to take the biggest chunk of the 35 lower house seats that are up for grabs in Argentina’s most populous district, Buenos Aires province.

If Kirchner loses, even by a small margin, he will still go to Congress under the proportional voting system, but he will have to give up on his run for president in 2011 to continue the interventionist economic policies of himself and his wife.

De Narvaez would use a win to push for the presidency even though the fact he was born in Colombia might rule out a candidacy.

De Narvaez launched his campaign a month ago with a brutally negative television advertisement that showed Argentines from all walks of life getting slapped across the face in slow motion — trying to cash in on the resentment of farmers and some business sectors sick of Kirchner tax and price control policies.

Kirchner is yelling himself hoarse at campaign rallies where he attacks companies by name for allegedly paying juicy dividends to shareholders while failing to meet payroll. Meanwhile, his campaign team has tried to smear De Narvaez with alleged connections to drug traffickers.

But the most eye-catching negative tactic is the one where candidates accuse one of their rivals of having a secret pact with the other in order to try to discredit them. This has been rampant in the last week and reveals the power struggles that undermine any pretense Argentine political parties make at being institutions.

The fact is that even if Kirchner’s wing of the Peronist party loses ground in Congress, there probably will be post-election alliances as the different blocs try to negotiate themselves into more powerful positions. But who is allied with whom is still unclear.

PHOTO – Nestor Kirchner campaigns for Congress, June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Imagen 233/Handout

PHOTO – Francisco de Narvaez campaigns for Congress, June 24, 2009. REUTERS/Marcelo Espinoza-Prensa Narvaez/Handout

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