Argentina's first couple, a power pair often compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton, won't say whether it will be a his or hers candidacy in this year's presidential election.
President Nestor Kirchner boasts soaring approval ratings amid an economic recovery. His wife, Sen. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is also popular ÃÂ¢€" and unlike Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, she established her own political career long before her husband became president. With both Kirchners doing well in the polls, they've been floating the idea that she should run to succeed him while he's still in office. Cristina Kirchner flew off without her husband this week to pick up some foreign policy credentials, going to Paris where she met privately Monday with another rising female politician: France's socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal. Like Cristina Kirchner, Royal had been overshadowed by her partner, French Socialist leader Francois Hollande, until she surprised many by rising far above him in the polls and winning the Socialists' nomination ahead of France's two-round election set for April and May. "Paris is a test for Cristina Kirchner," Argentina's opposition daily La Nacion declared, suggesting she may lack diplomatic experience. President Kirchner unleashed all the election speculation himself. Nicknamed the "penguin" and depicted by cartoonists with a beak-like nose as the former governor of a chilly Patagonian province, he publicly mused that either a "pinguino" or a "pinguina" would run, using the Spanish term for "penguin" in both its masculine and feminine forms. A leftist who took the helm of Argentina's dominant Peronist party in 2003, Kirchner isn't putting an end to the mystery yet, even though the election is just 10 months away. "This isn't the time to talk about the candidacy," he said recently. Why would Kirchner step aside as president at the height of his popularity? One clue lies in Argentina's constitution: incumbents are barred from seeking consecutive re-election more than once, so if Cristina Kirchner wins the presidency, there's a possibility they can do this again ÃÂ¢€" handing the job back to him, and then maybe to her again, for a total of 16 years in power. This would solve the lame-duck problem most second-term presidents face. Kirchner's aides also have suggested he'd rather have his wife handle day-to-day governing so he can be free to build a bigger leftist power base within the Peronist party. The decision may come down to pragmatism: with a simple majority needed for a first-round victory, the Kirchners may decide he's better positioned than her to avoid a runoff. Three opponents have announced their candidacies so far, but all have just single-digit support, far behind the Kirchners as they struggle to fine-tune their platforms against a ruling party candidate still unnamed. A recent poll showed President Kirchner winning with 52 percent of the vote if the election were held today, while Cristina Kirchner would win 37 percent of the vote and be forced into a second round. If she runs, Cristina Kirchner wouldn't be the only woman: Under a law since copied by other Latin American nations, 30 percent of all party candidates must be women, and there's already one running to the left of the Kirchners: House deputy Elisa Carrio. Kirchner's centrist former economy minister, Roberto Lavagna, hopes to persuade voters he can pursue a better recovery than his mentor. And on the right, former President Carlos Menem, lags last in many polls. Many Argentines blame Menem's U.S.-style, free-market government of 1989-1999 for the last economic crisis. President Kirchner boasts a 60 percent plus approval rating as the once moribund economy bounces back fast. And while critics snipe about inflation and enduring poverty, political analyst Rosendo Fraga said growth rates topping 8 percent yearly make either Kirchner the contender to beat on Oct. 28. "The presidential election will be the dominant political event of 2007, and both the economy as well as the division of the opposition give a clear edge to the ruling coalition," Fraga said.(AP)
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