Argy Dispute Latest

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Friday that she was bringing forward the mid-term elections from October to June.

Argentine farmers say that this is a sign of political weakness, and an attempt to deflect Congress' attention away from the government's ongoing dispute with them.

The official reason behind bringing the elections forward is that "governability is at risk amid a global economic crisis," say the government.

Not so say the farmers. "This is an electoral manoeuvre. They saw that otherwise, come October, they would be in a very bad shape. The global crisis is just an excuse. Not for bringing forward the election there will be less crisis.

"We fear that this may allow the government to continue to retain a majority (in Congress) to continue with the policies that have affected the farm sector so much. What the government calls "governability" is actually "the cheque book" - is how one of the farm leaders saw it.

The year-long dispute has made the image of the President plunge and the mid-term vote are crucial ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 2011. It has also sparked and exodus of government supporters in Congress that is threatening the Victory Front majority in both Houses.

Argentine Agrarian Federation Director Pedro Peretti said: "There is no institutional risk, nobody advocates a coup. What Kirchner has clearly seen is that they may reach October facing tremendous social conflicts, which would further risk their clout on their ranks and that they could even lose the 129-seat majority in the Lower House and even their majority in the Senate." The move may help the Kirchners to obtain a likely "less disastrous defeat," he added.

The elections — for half of the Lower House and a third of the Senate — are a big test for Fernández de Kirchner, who has seen her popularity plunge since she succeeded her husband Néstor Kirchner to the presidency 15 months ago. Her popularity was a healthy 50 percent when she took office in December 2007 but, by last month, only 29 percent of the public had a favourable image of her, according to a poll by the Poliarquia consultancy.

In another sign of her administration’s weakening hold on power, a ruling party alliance was comfortably defeated in local elections in the Catamarca province last Sunday week.

The President said she would send a bill to Congress on Monday to change electoral laws to bring forward the ballot to June 28 from the scheduled October 25.