Tuesday, April 29th 2003 - 21:00 UTC

Economic stability rather than political renewal.

Argentines voted with their minds and hearts fixed in economic stability rather than political renewal and “the May 18 run-off is another election” with both hopefuls forced to convince the undecided segment. That seems to be the predominant opinion among analysts of the record Sunday voting in Argentina.

In the aftermath of April 27 that has turned into a Peronist duel between former president Carlos Menem and governor Nestor Kirchner, Argentine sociologist Graciela Romer stresses that the ruling Justicialista Party is no longer "hegemonic but undoubtedly dominant", which means that the next president will have to negotiate alliances in Congress to ensure governance.

"In spite of the strong and sustained growth of Liberal economist Ricardo López Murphy, (who came in third), Argentines finally voted with their minds and hearts fixed in economic stability rather than political renewal", underlines Ms. Romer, who believes that Mr. Kirhcner's strong criticism of the liberal economics represented by Mr. Menem and Mr. López Murphy finally convinced quiet a few voters on the last day to cast their vote for the Santa Cruz governor.

"Basically we're talking of the impoverished middle class who fear the repeat of drastic austerity measures and would rather continue with the mild option of the current Duhalde administration recovery", said Ms. Romer.

Mr. Menem and Mr. Kirchner represent different economic models. The governor favours a strong government role, economic measures to stimulate Argentine industry and the strengthening of Mercosur. He has also promised to keep as Economy Minister Mr. Roberto Lavagna who is the man responsible for the current "stability summer" in Argentina.

Mr. Menem on the other during his ten years rule preached an open economy with a predominance of markets forces, foreign investment and foreign ownership of local industry, plus a strategic alliance with United States even if it meant sacrificing Mercosur.

"The Argentine people are not stupid, and know very well whom to choose, who will lift Argentina out of this true disaster that is the workings of the governments that succeed me. We've never seen a greater disaster than in these last two years", said Mr. Menem in his victory speech of April 27.

"Argentines voted for work, for the moral renovation of politics. We are going to ask the support from all political groupings because we all have before us a very great responsibility. We can't scrap the opportunity the Argentine people are giving us", said Mr. Kirchner.

"We managed to overcome the economic crisis by ourselves and we're also recovering from the political crisis. Those who doubted have no reason to keep doubting. I hope we continue to manage this country that has such potential, as long as we act in a normal and serious manner", indicated Mr. Lavagna.

But underlying the election of a president is the ongoing dispute for the control of the Justicialista party, --and Argentina? between Mr. Menem and his former ally and current caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde, the strongman of the country's main electoral circumscription and decisive this last April 27 and even more on May 18, the province of Buenos Aires.

Mr. Kirchner and Mr. Duhalde worked out an alliance that has proved most successful: before the agreement the governor was unable to penetrate the province of Buenos Aires and his vote intention was below 10%.

Mr. Menem refers to Mr. Kirchner as the "interim president's chick".

However Ms. Romer insists that who ever is elected will have to share power with Congress. "The old Argentine system of two strong parties ceased to exist and will force coalitions and alliances. Congress will have a crucial role for the incoming administration".

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