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Argentina primary vote measures appetite for populist ex president

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentines began going to the polls on Sunday in a closely watched mid-term primary election that will test their appetite for bringing back the left-wing populism of former President Cristina Fernandez.

Fernandez, who was indicted for corruption last year, is vying for a Senate seat in Buenos Aires province, home to nearly 40 percent of the country’s voters. She is running against business friendly President Mauricio Macri’s former education minister and other candidates from a divided opposition.

Investors and wealthy Argentines fear a Fernandez comeback in Congress could pave the way to her running for president in 2019. Her return to power would likely mean the end of Macri’s reforms and a resumption of rampant spending, protection of industry and isolation from trade agreements and international capital markets.

A seat in Congress would give the 64-year-old Fernandez immunity from arrest, though not from trial. She dismisses the corruption accusations as politically motivated.

The compulsory primary vote on Sunday will essentially serve as a detailed poll ahead of the Oct. 22 election for one third of the Senate and half the lower house of Congress, as no major candidates are being challenged from within their own parties.

Polls close at 6 p.m. local time (9 p.m. GMT) with the first results expected around 9 p.m.

Though her chosen successor lost to Macri in Buenos Aires province in 2015, Fernandez now appeals to many in its struggling industrial belt, where Argentina’s emergence from recession in the second half of last year has yet to take hold.

“Macri made an adjustment that only benefited the millionaires. There’s more poverty and more unemployment,” said Enrique Greco, 47, a public employee in the province.

The final weeks of primary campaigning were marked by headlines highlighting gaffes from Esteban Bullrich, Macri’s former education minister and scion of a wealthy Buenos Aires family. On Wednesday, he apologized for…

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