Profile: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner at the 68th United Nations General Assembly  on 24 September, 2013 Cristina Fernandez: First woman elected and re-elected president in Argentina

Following the announcement that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is to undergo surgery, messages of support have been pouring in for the leader.

Political adversaries campaigning for the congressional election at the end of the month as well as leaders from the main political forces and regional foreign heads of state have wished her well in messages posted on Twitter.

Her operation comes almost three years after the death of her husband and predecessor in the post, Nestor Kirchner.

His death robbed President Fernandez of her closest political confidant. Together, they made a formidable team and were often described as Argentina's power couple.

Ms Fernandez secured re-election as president of Argentina in October 2011 with a landslide victory.

It was in many ways a dramatic turnaround for Ms Fernandez, whose first term had been beset by rows and low approval ratings.

While still a popular figure among low-income families and rural Argentines, who have benefited from the government's social policies, Ms Fernandez's honeymoon with the urban middle class seems to be over now.

In recent months, thousands have marched against rising prices, government restrictions on the purchase of US dollars, and high crime levels.

'Wives' duel'

Cristina, as the majority of Argentines call her, has often been described as a strong-willed woman, obsessed with her image. But she is also a politician with a long track record.

She was born on 19 February 1953 in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, where she graduated in law.

She married Mr Kirchner, whom she met at university, in 1975. A year later, the couple went to live in his home region, the southern province of Santa Cruz.

At the end of the 1980s, she embarked on her political career, first as a provincial then as a national deputy.

But it was her husband who rose through the ranks of the Peronist polictical movement.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (l) and her husband, former Argentine President (2003-2007) Nestor Kirchner attend on 25 May, 2010 Ther Kirchners influenced and advised each other

In 1991, Mr Kirchner was elected governor of Santa Cruz. He won two more terms, while Ms Fernandez supported him as a deputy.

When Mr Kirchner took office as president in 2003 - in the midst of one of the worst economic and social crises in the country - a similar pattern emerged.

By then Cristina Fernandez was a senator with her own political weight in Congress, where she actively supported her husband's policies that included boosting social spending.

Ms Fernandez cemented her political position in the congressional elections of 2005.

Taking 46% of the votes, she won in the province of Buenos Aires in a contest dubbed "the wives' duel", beating her main rival, Hilda Gonzalez, the wife of the former President Eduardo Duhalde (2002-2003).

During Mr Kirchner's administration, there was almost no decision taken in which she did not have a say, her influence exceeding that of an ordinary lawmaker.

She was also the first senator to have an office within the presidential palace, provoking criticism from the opposition.

The governing party insisted that the office was small and was hers by virtue of her position as first lady.

Continuity

Occupying the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, in her own right, President Fernandez has broadly continued her husband's policies.

Start Quote

I have the honour to be the first woman to be re-elected in the country. What more could I want?”

End Quote Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner President of Argentina

There have been further moves to address human rights abuses of the past. Argentina also became the first country in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriages.

Under her, Argentina renewed contacts with the International Monetary Fund after years of hostility and moved to renew negotiations over paying Argentina's debts to the Paris Club of lender nations.

While Argentina has recovered from the economic woes of the early 2000s, there is persistent, and under-reported, high inflation and many Argentines still live in poverty.

President Fernandez has also been frequently at odds with the nation's powerful agricultural sector.

Cristina Fernandez has been, perhaps inevitably, compared to Eva Peron, Argentina's legendary first lady who formed a formidable ruling partnership with her husband Juan Domingo Peron in the late 1940s and early 50s.

But Evita was never elected. Cristina Fernandez, by contrast, was the country's first elected female president.

"I have the honour to be the first woman to be re-elected in the country. What more could I want," President Fernandez told supporters after her victory on 23 October .

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