Tough times for Argentina's president

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MARCO WERMAN: Next month, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner faces midterm elections. It doesn't look good. Fernandez de Kirchner's 18 months in power have been rough. She's had to deal with a bitter national farmers' strike and with high inflation. There is also a deteriorating economy brought on by the global financial crisis and a reinvigorated opposition. Faced with a pounding at the polls, the president's party ahs turned to increasingly desperate electoral tactics. Ian Mount has this report from Buenos Aires.

IAN MOUNT: For the first time in seven years, the Argentine T.V. variety show host Marcelo Tinelli has brought back Gran Gunado, Spanish for "Big Brother-in-Law" a political parody based on the Big Brother reality show. It's been a hit and it is brutal. Ex-President Nestor Kirchner is played for pronounced wall-eye and lisp, and is supposed tendency to forget that he's no longer president. His wife, current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is played by a man in drag. She's a haughty hair obsessed egoist who pretentiously butchers Spanish. Elected to succeed her husband in 2007, Fernandez de Kirchner came to office with an approval rating of close to 60% and an economy growing by more than 8% a year. Two years later, with an approval rating of below 30%, an angry middle class and an economy on the edge of recession, she faces midterm elections.

FELIPE NOGUERA: It seems almost like a foregone conclusion that they're going to lose their majority in the House and maybe in Senate.

MOUNT: That's Argentine's political consultant Felipe Noguera. Argentines expected Cristina to be more diplomatic than her authoritarian husband, and to bring Argentina into the international mainstream. But those hopes have been dashed by her intransigent handling of the farmers' strike, her tight relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and a string of clumsy nationalizations of private companies. Again, Noguera.

NOGUERA: She was expected to deliver the same good economic results of her husband, but in a more sort of institutional way with more dialogue and so on. And now, we don't have that dialogue, we don't have that greater institutional behavior, and the economy isn't doing so well.

MOUNT: Faced with defeat, Fernandez de Kirchner and her husband have turned to increasingly desperate measures. They moved up the election to June from October, hoping to catch the opposition flatfooted before Argentine's economic collapse deepens. And they've begun to issue ominous warnings to voters that if they elect the opposition, Argentina will return to the chaos it saw during its 2001 economic collapse or worse. Here's Nestor Kirchner, now the head of his wife's Peronist political party, at a recent rally.

NESTOR KIRCHNER: Think about this possibility on the 28th of June. What if Cristina doesn't have a legislative majority? Then we would return to the country of 2001, to unemployment, to poverty and to an Argentina that would explode.

MOUNT: Most notably, Nestor Kirchner has signed up both himself and a famous actress known for playing Evita Peron, as legislative candidates. And he's enlisted dozens of so-called testimonial candidates to help, about 40 popular Peronist mayors, a governor, and the President's Chief of Staff will pretend to run for legislative office but will not take the jobs if they win. Under Argentina's proportional representation system, other politicians from Kirchner's party would replace them.

SERGIO BERENSZTEIN: I think he's desperate. He knows that he's losing power.

MOUNT: That's Sergio Berensztein, a local political pollster. Berensztein knows that the normally hard edged Nestor Kirchner is even playing cuddly in order to improve his party's chances.

BERENSZTEIN: You've seen in the last few weeks a new Kirchner running the campaign, right? He kisses everyone. He's nice and he talks to journalists and so on and so forth. This not the real Nestor Kirchner. This is Nestor Kirchner the candidate.

MOUNT: That makes two "not real" Nestor Kirchners. For The World, this is Ian Mount in Buenos Aires.