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Fernandez poised for victory in presidential poll

Argentina’s incumbent President Cristina Fernandez is riding an unparalleled wave of popularity that is expected to win her a second mandate in Sunday’s elections.

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Incumbent President Cristina Fernandez is expected to win a second four-year term with a landslide victory in general elections in Argentina on Sunday. Observers say it is possible she will receive the highest percentage of votes in any election since the South American country re-established democratic rule in 1983.

In Argentina’s first-ever open national primaries in August, Fernandez received more than 50 percent of the vote. Since then, her support has only increased, according to several opinion polls. Her massive popularity stands in contrast to the dwindling support she experienced a few years ago. In 2009, Fernandez approval ratings sank to just 20 percent after the global crisis damaged Argentina’s growth.

The centre-right incumbent is facing candidates at the head of six different coalitions

from the political left and right. With virtually no chance of defeating Fernandez - no other candidate boasts more than 15-percent backing - the other political camps have been left jostling for seats in Argentina’s Parliament.

According to analysts, Fernandez’ widespread appeal is largely owed to the country’s current robust economy and recent job growth. However, other factors have contributed to her unmatched advantage in the upcoming presidential poll.

Jobs and 'football for everyone'

Argentina has successfully navigated through the global recession that began in 2008, showing the kind of economic growth that has continued to elude European countries and the US. This year, the unemployment rate in Argentina dropped to a 20-year low of 7.3 percent. Its Gross Domestic Product grew 9.2 percent in 2010, the Bloomberg news agency reported in September.

The vice-presidential candidate for the far-left Workers’ Left Front (FIT), Christian Castillo, admitted Fernandez’ popularity had been rising on par with the GDP. “[Fernandez’ government] was helped by an important economic growth trend across Latin America, which is explained especially by heavy exports,” Castillo said.

According to analysts, Fernandez’ risky economic policies, such as placing import curbs on many consumer goods and maintaining energy subsidies for industry, have paid off. Soledad Riesnik, a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires and an expert in public opinion, said those initiatives were coupled with social policies that appeal to wide swathes of the population.

In one move slammed as shamelessly populist by detractors, the Fernandez government pressured Argentina’s football federation to end its broadcasting deal with the country’s biggest media firm and instead show all matches on a state-run station. The effort has reportedly opened premier-league matches to some 20 million viewers –half of Argentina’s population.

“The ‘football for everyone’ initiative opened up a direct line of communication between the government and the people,” said Riesnik. “For Cristina Fernandez it was a very positive measure.”

'The Strength of one Country'

Fernandez' expected triumph is also linked to constantly shifting alliances in the opposition, experts said. According to Riesnik, opposition political groups that came together under coalitions have often run separate campaigns. “The opposition committed many errors that are impossible to undo,” the professor said.

In contrast to the mixed messages presented by the opposition, the Fernandez camp has created a clear and poignant campaign around the slogan“The Strength of one Country”.

The television spots are short and feature personal stories of triumph over adversity, along with emotional imagery and music. President Fernandez doesn’t hesitate to elaborate on her own tragic story.

Her campaign has relied heavily on the image and memory of late president Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’ husband, who died of a heart attack a year ago. The “His Strength” video flashes images of a heroic Kirchner, as Fernandez’ voice, never mentioning his name, invokes his “undying” legacy.

The savvy political advert has struck a chord among Argentineans who feel the country’s economic recovery is intimately tied to the Kirchner-Fernandez couple’s own story - one the incumbent’s opponents are finding hard to beat.

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