Latin America & Caribbean

Tough term ahead for Argentina's Cristina Fernandez

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner holds up a photo of herself and her late husband Nestor at her victory rally in Buenos Aires on 23 October 2011
Image caption Observers say Cristina Fernandez has not been afraid to move out of the shadow of her late husband

Argentina does not often experience such a one-sided election.

The votes counted on Sunday only confirmed what had been known for some months - that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will be the president for another four years.

She will start her second term in office in many ways as a much stronger president than she was four years ago.

Then, many opponents and even some allies, saw her as a stand-in for her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who preceded her in the presidency and was expected to succeed her.

But he died of a heart attack last October, leaving a grieving widow to run the country without his behind-the-scenes support.

However, newspaper editor, Sergio Kiernan, said she was not just Nestor Kirchner's widow.

"She was a senator for many years," he said. "And for many, many years in many ways she was the more prominent of the two. She's always been a politician in her own right and she remains so."

She has fallen out with close aides of her husband and forged her own alliances. The most notable split has been with the head of the powerful trade union movement, Hugo Moyano. He was one of Nestor's most loyal allies, often seen in the front row at political rallies.

But Cristina has shut him out and the struggle is under way within the trade union movement to replace him. Few doubt that the new leader will be more to the liking of the president.

And she has chosen a running mate she gets along with - the guitar-playing, motorbike-riding economy minister, Amado Boudou.

She hardly spoke to her 2007 vice-president, Julio Cobos, after they fell out early on in a bitter dispute with the farming sector over the amount of tax paid on agricultural exports, principally soya.

The lucrative crop was a major factor in helping the economy to recover from the crisis it suffered 10 years ago.

This was despite the poor relations between the farming lobby and, firstly, Nestor then Cristina Fernandez.

So Ms Fernandez's well-publicised lunch with one of the major agricultural groups in the week before polling was, say many analysts, about time and perhaps a sign of maturity on both sides.

Trouble ahead?

After the results of the primaries in August that indicated Ms Fernandez would win a convincing victory, the opposition did not have time to regain their breath, let alone rebuild, for the elections.

Image caption Ms Fernandez chose guitar-playing economy minister Boudou as her running mate

Two of the major contenders, former president Eduardo Duhalde, and the head of the opposition Radical party Ricardo Alfonsin, saw their opinion poll ratings slide - unable to offer much in the way of alternative policies or themselves as credible contenders for the presidency.

One of the few opposition candidates to emerge strongly from the primaries was the socialist governor of Santa Fe province, Hermes Binner.

He is trying to promote himself as the major voice of opposition to the governing Peronist party while positioning himself for the next elections in 2015, when he will be 72.

Another thorn in Ms Fernandez's side, and another possible rival in 2015, is the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri. He is a right-wing businessman who enjoys support among the wealthier residents in the capital, traditional opponents of the president's Peronist party.

But while a fragmented opposition certainly helped President Fernandez surge to victory, it was the economy that sealed it for her.

Argentina has seen steady and sometimes rapid growth since the turmoil of its economic collapse in 2001-02. Vehicle and electrical appliance sales are at a record high.

Shopping malls in Buenos Aires and the other major cities of Rosario and Cordoba are buzzing, and previously sleepy rural towns are proudly displaying the wealth accrued from the soya harvests.

However, some economists see signs of trouble ahead. The Argentine economy is closely tied to that of its much bigger neighbour, Brazil.

But growth in Brazil is likely to slow down next year and the value of its currency, the real, against the dollar was recently reduced. And this along with an annual trade deficit of $4bn (£2.5bn.)

An estimated $10bn left Argentina in capital flight in the first three months of this year. Locals were unwilling to invest long-term in their own country - a view shared by many potential foreign investors put off by a whole host of obstacles, from too much bureaucracy to corruption.

But one of the major concerns for many Argentines and possibly the biggest challenge facing the president is inflation.

The government says the annual rate is around the 10% mark. However many independent analysts dispute the official figures, putting it closer to 25%. Economists risk being prosecuted for questioning the government-approved statistics.

Ms Fernandez's first term in office was by no means easy, with the bitter dispute with the farming lobby, the death of her husband, inflation, rising crime and a number of political scandals to contend with. She appears to have survived and prospered.

But second terms in office can be notoriously difficult and President Fernandez may well look back and think that winning her second election was the easy part.

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