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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Argentina set for tight vote
Carlos Menem whose wife is expecting a child holds a baby at a campaign rally
Menem tries to turn on the charm
With just six days to go before Argentina's presidential election, candidates are stepping up their campaigning in a race that seems set to go all the way to a second round.

Nineteen candidates - five in with a chance - are battling for the support of weary voters who have seen their country mired in economic and political crisis for the past two years.

The latest opinion polls have put the flamboyant former president Carlos Menem just ahead of Nestor Kirchner - both from different factions of the ruling Peronist party.

Whoever wins faces the challenge of picking up the pieces after the country imploded in 2001, defaulting on its foreign debt and suffering a financial collapse.

Carlos Menem has insisted victory will be his.

But he faces a strong challenge from Mr Kirchner, who is backed by caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde, while liberal economist Ricardo Lopez Murphy has made the best recent gains in the opinion polls.

Adolfo Rodriguez Saa - another candidate from the splintered Peronist party - is also a contender for the post he briefly occupied at the height of the crisis at the end of 2001.

Centre-left deputy Elisa Carrio is also in the running, as analysts say all five can expect to garner between 12% and 20% of the vote.

A second miracle?

As campaigning got under way, 72-year-old Mr Menem announced that he and his wife, Chile's former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco, 37, were expecting a baby.

Analysts say some Argentines will vote for him, in the hope he can repeat the good years of his 1989 -1999 administration.

Argentines protest outside a bank in February 2002 to try to get at their savings
Argentines have lived through economic and political upheaval
Mr Menem is identified with the pegging of the Argentine peso to the US dollar - a move which brought financial stability and low unemployment.

At the time, Argentina was hailed by the international markets as an economic miracle.

Now the jobless rate is about 18% and many Argentines saw their life savings dwindle or disappear as the currency plummeted and bank accounts were frozen.

Around half the population of 38 million lives below the poverty line.

"When Menem was in power, we all earned a lot more," 73-year-old Teresa Escobar told Associated Press.

But Mr Menem, whose government was plagued by accusations of corruption and cronyism, attracts as much opposition as support.

Many blame him for sowing the seeds of the economic crisis.

"He has no shame. Everything he did as president was a disaster and yet he still has the nerve to show his face as a candidate again," Luciana Rossi, 24, said.

If no candidates wins 45% of the vote on 27 April, a second round will be held on 18 May between the top two.


SEE ALSO:
Argentina's poor hit new record
01 Feb 03  |  Americas
Q&A: Argentina's economic crisis
12 Feb 03  |  Business
Argentina lifts final cash curbs
27 Mar 03  |  Business
Country profile: Argentina
17 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Argentina
11 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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