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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Kirchner: President by default
President-elect Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina
Some say the main attraction of Kirchner's campaign was his wife
Nestor Kirchner will be sworn is as president of Argentina on 25 May, having won an election by default.

He obtained 22% of the vote in a first round of voting and was due to face former President Carlos Menem in a run-off on Sunday - but Mr Menem withdrew from the race.

During the bitter electoral campaign, the 53-year-old governor of the oil-rich province of Santa Cruz sought to portray himself as the country's cleanest and most responsible regional leader.

And, among voters hard hit by years of recession and turmoil, the until recently relatively unknown Nestor Kirchner appears to have struck a cord.

I am not a seller of illusions... I am a serious and efficient administrator
Nestor Kirchner
Opinion polls conducted before Mr Menem's dramatic withdrawal, suggest Mr Kirchner was heading for a landslide, despite having come second in the first round.

Now, the former lawyer - who like Carlos Menem is a Peronist - will be inaugurated with the smallest vote ever.

'Efficient administrator'

"Decaffeinated" and "grey" were some of the words used to describe Mr Kirchner when he started campaigning for the presidency.

According to the political magazine Noticias, the main attraction of his campaign was his wife, Cristina Fernandez, a popular and influential senator.

In the run-up to the vote, Mr Kirchner himself sought to accentuate the contrast with the colourful and often controversial Carlos Menem.

"I am not a seller of illusions. I am a serious and efficient administrator," Mr Kirchner said recently.

With the strong backing of caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde, Mr Kirchner presented himself as the candidate of continuity after the financial meltdown of 2001 in which four presidents left office in two weeks.

He also promised fiscal probity and prudence on the back of his record in Santa Cruz province in Patagonia - which he has governed for 12 years.

'Vague programme'

Mr Kirchner said he had secured the finances of his province by transferring savings into bank accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

He also pushed through unpopular spending cuts.

But opponents argue that Santa Cruz - which is closer to Antarctica than Buenos Aires - is easy to manage because it gets so much money from oil revenue and has less than 200,000 inhabitants.

Critics also say his economic programme for the nation is somewhat vague, although Argentine business leaders are reported to be reassured by his promise to retain the well-respected Economy Minister, Roberto Lavagna.

Mr Kirchner is expected to spend the days before his inauguration deciding the rest of his future cabinet.


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