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Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Guide to Argentina's Congressional poll
Argentine voters go to the polls on Sunday 14 October for elections to both houses of Congress. The elections will be marked by continuing economic disarray and political uncertainty, reports BBC Monitoring's Simon Watts.
President Fernando de la Rua's government inherited a sluggish economy and a large foreign debt when it was elected amid much optimism in 1999.
The country lurched into crisis almost exactly a year ago, on 5 October 2000, when De la Rua botched a cabinet reshuffle leading to political chaos and a collapse in investor confidence.
Since then the country has managed - just - to stave off a default on its $130bn debt through emergency IMF loans and a huge $30bn debt swap to delay repayment.
The Standard and Poor's credit rating agency recently put Argentina in its lowest category before default, and the country now has one of the highest risk ratings in the world.
The government has also sought to keep the economy afloat through a tough "zero-deficit" policy, under which it can spend no more than it raises through taxes.
This has resulted in highly unpopular 13% cuts in salaries and pensions. After years of belt-tightening, many Argentines are now simply fed up.
Many members of the governing alliance have left, disillusioned by a lack of firmness on corruption and the government's economic orthodoxy.
Mr de la Rua was forced to bring back former President Carlos Menem's economic guru Domingo Cavallo to fight the crisis, to little avail.
His high profile has become controversial and creates permanent speculation about his continuity in the role and rivalry with Mr de la Rua.
In both the governing alliance and the opposition Peronists, there are leaders who back the current economic orthodoxy and "populists" who would prefer a looser approach.
The election campaign has been fiercely fought, but the public appears to be disenchanted with politics and the turnout may be low.
The seats at stake
Argentina has a bicameral National Congress consisting of the 72-seat Senate and the 257-seat Chamber of Deputies.
On paper, the Congress is a powerful institution with the power to raise taxes and oversee the country's foreign debt, exchange rate and budget.
Elections to the Senate are in transition to a new system under which one third of the members will be elected to six-year terms every two years.
At this election, all 72 seats in the Senate will be filled and the winners will then draw lots to decide whether they get two-, four- or six-year terms.
Each of the 24 districts (the 23 provinces and the federal capital) will return three members, and, under a new quota system, at least one of them must be a woman.
Members of the Chamber of Deputies serve four years, with elections for approximately half the house held every two years. There are 130 seats at stake at this election.
Alliance for Work, Justice and Education (Alliance): The alliance governing Argentina at national level.
It consists of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) led by former President Raul Alfonsin and the Front for a Country in Solidarity (Frepaso), led by Dario D'Alessandro.
The UCR is historically a liberal, middle-class party, while the Frepaso is a newer centre-left coalition.
They joined forces to defeat the Carlos Menem government in 1999.
Argentines for a Republic of Equals (ARI): Led by Elisa Carrio, this is a splinter group of disillusioned members of the Alliance.
It pledges to crack down on corruption and is likely to take votes away from the government, especially in Buenos Aires.
Justicialist Party (PJ): The Peronist party, led by ex-President Carlos Menem, who is currently under house arrest on arms-trafficking charges.
The main opposition formation, although it has been prepared to work with the government to tackle the economic crisis.
It is characterised by political bosses and internal turf wars.
Action for the Republic (AR): Right-wing, pro-business party led by Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo.
Provincial parties are also strong at local level.
Most opinions predict that the Peronists will become the biggest minority group in both houses.
According to the New Majority Study Centre, the PJ will win 36 Senate seats to the Alliance's 26.
In this way, the government would lose control of the lower house, but the PJ's grip on the Senate would also be weaker.
In terms of national percentages, the PJ is predicted to take between 38% and 40% of valid votes, with the Alliance on less than 25%.
The polls also show that a high number of voters are intending to spoil their ballot papers or cast blank votes.
Protest votes could run as high as 12% in the capital, according to pollsters, although the figures are likely to be lower elsewhere.
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
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