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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 10:03 GMT
Argentina leader's chequered past
Senator Eduardo Duhalde
Duhalde: Hair like Peron's, speeches like Evita's
Two years ago, Eduardo Duhalde - a populist senator known for blunt language and outspoken remarks - lost the presidential election against Fernando de la Rua.

Mr Duhalde's defeat ended a decade of rule by his Peronist party and triggered infighting.

Now, the Peronist-controlled Congress has chosen Mr Duhalde - one of Argentina's most powerful political bosses and a party stalwart - to complete the term of the unpopular Mr de la Rua.
Supporters of Eduardo Duhalde wave the Peronist flag outside Congress
Duhalde supporters wave the Peronist flag

Mr Duhalde, 60, had already held two of the most important posts in Argentine politics: governor of the biggest province, Buenos Aires, and vice-president under Carlos Menem.

Becoming president was a cherished ambition for a veteran politician who has dedicated his life to building a power base in the party.

Unlike his predecessors - champions of the free market who tried to open Argentina's long-protected economy to the world - Mr Duhalde wants to protect local industry and says he will use public works projects to reduce unemployment.

He's the last alternative within traditional politics

Political analyst Rosendo Fraga
He is a rousing and fiery speaker who certainly enjoys broad support in Congress.

But he may find it more difficult to win public support amid widespread anger at politicians, seen as corrupt and incompetent and blamed for the country's economic crisis.

Accusations of graft

His term as governor of Buenos Aires was marred by allegations of corruption.

He was also accused of plunging the province into debt so he could win votes.

The old style party boss - said to have a penchant for backroom wheeling and dealing - spent tens of millions of dollars on programmes to help the poor.

But he left the provincial administration so broke that his successor had to pay workers in government bonds.

Some analysts say it is an inauspicious record for a president who will have to make Argentina's books balance or face continuing unrest as the country's economic woes deepen.

His inaugural speech as president was greeted by banging of pots and pans from the balconies of middle-class areas in Argentina's capital.

Reassuringly familiar

Known to friends as "cabezon" - big head - he is a lover of Argentina's national sport, football, and its national dish, beef.

He slicks back his hair in the style of the founder of his party, Juan Peron, and has been described as a political "godfather" with a resemblance to the Hollywood actor Joe Pesci.

He has spent years railing at "neo-liberalism" which he blames in part for Argentina's crisis.

Born in Lomas de Zamora, just outside the capital Buenos Aires, he began his political career as a law student.

By the age of 30, he was a local councillor in Lomas de Zamora - becoming mayor at 35 and entering Congress in 1987.

A devout Catholic who is married with five children, Mr Duhalde says his favourite book is the Bible.

He has described himself as the natural candidate of the eclectic Peronist movement based on the legacy of the populist General Peron and his famous wife Evita.

Political analyst Rosendo Fraga says Mr Duhalde represents the last hope of Argentina's increasingly beleaguered political establishment.

"He's the last alternative within traditional politics," says Mr Fraga.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimmler
"Argentineans would like to see an end to the uncertainty"
Dr Celia Szusterman, Argentina analyst
"This is a very fragile position"
See also:

01 Jan 02 | Americas
Argentina braces for fresh protests
01 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina faces grim economic future
30 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentine cabinet offers to quit
21 Dec 01 | Business
Bush backs IMF austerity measures
31 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentina's toughest job
01 Jan 02 | Media reports
Press lambasts Peronist 'infighting'
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