A surprise ruling party victory in Argentina’s first provincial election of the year gives President Cristina Fernandez a boost before her likely re-election bid in October. CFK ally Lucia Corpacci ousted the current governor of Catamarca province, who sought a third term in Sunday’s vote.
She will govern the sparsely populated north-western province, where an opposition coalition ruled for 20 years. Catamarca is home to just 368,000 of Argentina's 40.1 million inhabitants.
Government officials painted the victory as a show of support for the president and her policies aimed at swift economic growth. Opposition leaders said it was more a vote against politicians who try to stay in power indefinitely.
“Objectively, the election is not very relevant because Catamarca is marginal,” said political analyst Manuel Mora y Araujo. “But it will be exploited to the president’s benefit.”
He added that President Cristina Kirchner’s campaigning in Catamarca had a positive impact since her approval ratings are good.
Nearly half of Argentina's 23 provinces will hold elections for governor prior to congressional and presidential elections in late October.
Political analysts expect CFK and her Victory Front, FPV, to invest significant political capital in those elections in order to rally her supporters and build an aura of invincibility ahead of federal elections.
Juan Manuel Urtubey, FPV governor in neighboring Salta Province, said in a televised interview on Monday morning that Mrs Kirchner visit to Catamarca last month played a key role in the FPV's victory.
The FPV's next big electoral showdown is March 20 in the oil and gas rich Chubut province, where its candidate is running against a dissident Peronist backed by incumbent governor and presidential hopeful Mario Das Neves.
Rosendo Fraga, political analyst and director of the Nueva Mayoria think tank, said in a column published in La Nacion.com that the FPV gained positive momentum thanks to its win in Catamarca.
If [the ruling party] wins again next Sunday, the political implications would be that its possibilities of triumphing in October are on the rise and that the opposition has neither the leadership nor the strategy to successfully compete for the presidency, he wrote.
CFK is widely expected to seek a second four-year term. Though she has yet to formally announce her candidacy, her ministers as well as allies in congress and the country's powerful trade unions repeatedly say that Cristina Fernandez is the FPV's natural and only presidential candidate.
In recent months, CFK has kept a punishing schedule of almost daily speaking events in the capital city of Buenos Aires and the provinces that frequently involve public works projects and the opening of factories.
Argentina's fragmented opposition will be hard pressed to offer voters a viable alternative to the Kirchners enviable track record of low unemployment--7.3% in the fourth quarter--and at least six years of rapid economic growth.
But growth has come at the cost of inflation that most economists say is currently running at an annual rate of around 25% with upside risk as unions demand wage increases of close to 30% this year. Argentina's heavily questioned national statistics agency said inflation was just 10.6% at the end of January