Argentines go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, along with legislators and provincial governors. In a country that produced the iconic figure of Eva Peron [wife of two-time President Juan Peron] more than 50 years ago, all eyes are on another woman: the current first lady. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is running to succeed her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, and pre-election polls show her with a commanding lead in the race. From Buenos Aires, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.
Argentina could be on the verge of making history. A victory by Cristina Fernandez, who is both first lady and a senator, would give the country its first elected female leader. Polls show her with about a 30-point lead over her nearest rival, fueled by Argentina's strong economic performance during her husband's term - a fact she has stressed during the campaign.
"The truth is that with this year's growth, Argentina has seen the best economic growth in the last hundred years," she says. "Argentina has recorded five consecutive years of growth for the first time in a century."
The presidential slate features a dozen other candidates, ranging across the political spectrum. Among them is Roberto Lavagna, who gained international prominence as economy minister under President Kirchner and his predecessor.
Lavagna, who stepped down in 2005, says he was the architect of Argentina's recovery from an economic meltdown in 2001. He accuses Mr. Kirchner of squandering these gains and says Cristina Fernandez would do no better.
"I believe the president has lost a great opportunity," he says. "The economic recovery the country experienced between 2002 and 2005, which no one thought possible, neither at home nor abroad, is being wasted."
On the streets of Buenos Aires, opinions on the presidential race are decidedly mixed. Polls show nearly half the electorate backing the first lady, who hails from Argentina's Peronist Party, but is running as a center-left coalition candidate.
Buenos Aires lawyer Adriana Gomez says she will vote for Fernandez.
"Cristina seems to be consistent as a politician," she said. "She strikes me as intelligent. I would like for her to become president."
Businessman Eduardo Roig agrees.
"The fact that she is a woman does not guarantee anything, but is nothing negative, either," he said. "I have hope that she would do a good job [as president]."
Argentina's opposition is severely fragmented, with no candidate polling above 15 percent. Many who plan to vote for the opposition seem to have only one thing in common: a dislike for Cristina Fernandez.
"The fact that she is a woman does not bother me," said University student Julieta Solis. "But I am not going to vote for her because she seems very arrogant and I do not like her or the [current] president."
Despite billboards and campaign posters, the election campaign has been very low-key. Argentine political consultant Sergio Berensztein notes there have been no public debates among the presidential contenders, and most campaign appearances by the candidates go virtually unnoticed by the broader public.
"This campaign and these candidates have not generated any enthusiasm," he says. "Only one in four Argentines is paying attention to the campaign. Important issues are not being debated, in part because the Kirchners [Nestor and Cristina Fernandez] have refused to do so."
The president and first lady refuse to talk to reporters, to field questions and give answers.
To avoid a runoff election, Cristina Fernandez would have to win 45 percent of the vote - or receive 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the second-place finisher. Most political analysts believe the first lady can win outright, but note that pre-election polls are often unreliable in Argentina.