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Argentina's Opposition Expected to Win Majority in Both Houses of Congress


Argentines head to the polls Sunday for mid-term elections fed up with a 40-month long recession and a political class that seems unable to end it. The main opposition party is expected to take control of both houses of Congress in an utter rejection of President Fernando De la Rua's two-year old administration.

Argentines on Sunday will vote for the entire 72-member Senate and half of the 257-member House of Deputies in a key test of President Fernando De la Rua's administration. The country's embattled president, whose own Alliance Party has splintered by fights over economic policy, is likely to be the big loser in the elections.

Not only is the opposition Peronist party expected to win a majority of seats in both the upper and lower house, but even those candidates running on the Alliance Party ticket are harshly critical of Mr. De la Rua.

In fact, in Sunday's election there are no candidates who represent the government's policies.

Rodolfo Terragno, the Alliance Party candidate in the Buenos Aires city Senate race, is a prime example of friend turned foe. Mr. Terragno served as Mr. De la Rua's first cabinet chief before being ousted in a cabinet shakeup. After that he quickly turned into one of the president's most vocal critics, especially on economic policy issues.

And he's not alone.

With more than one-third of Argentines living in poverty, unemployment rates above 16 per cent, and a steady outflow of young Argentines leaving the country in search of a better life, the economy is on everyone's mind.

Domingo Cavallo, who, as economy minister in the early 1990s, helped stabilize Argentina's chaotic economy, came back to the job in March. Despite the Harvard-trained economist's attempts to work his magic again, the economic situation has only worsened.

And politicians of all stripes are using Mr. Cavallo as their whipping boy. Yet, while most Argentines dislike Mr. Cavallo and Mr. De La Rua's economic policy, large numbers of Argentines don't see any other appealing options.

Take the two front runners in the Buenos Aires province senate race: Raul Alfonsin and Eduardo Duhalde. Both Alfonsin, a former president, and Duhalde, a former provincial governor, left appalling economic legacies upon finishing their terms.

Economic mismanagement and perceived government corruption rankles Argentines. "They're all crooks" is a common refrain on the streets of Argentina.

But staying away from the polls isn't an option in this South American nation where all citizens over the age of 18 must vote. So, while most Argentines show up at the polls, many cast blank or void ballots in protest.

Leading polling firms report that, nationwide, about 15 per cent of eligible voters won't vote for a listed candidate and the number is twice that in the greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area.

Not even candidates campaigning on an anti-corruption, anti-elitist platform are appealing. In part because of Argentines' past experience.

Former Vice President Carlos Alvarez was voted into office on his strong anti-corruption platform. Mr. Alvarez badly disappointed his supporters when he resigned in October 2000 in protest over a Senate bribery scandal that still remains unsolved.

While politicians are worried about voters' anger, neither political analysts nor everyday citizens expect anything to change. Instead, everyone expects the new Congress to continue the political bickering and ineffectiveness of its predecessor.

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