Game change in Argentina

The sudden death of former
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, long favoured to take the presidential
reins from his wife when her term ends in 2012 just as she did from him in
2007, has flung open the doors to next year’s presidential election in

“It’s a game changer,”
said Mauricio Cardenas, director of Brookings’ Latin America Institute. “A
lot of people were expecting him to run.”

Kirchner’s widow, Cristina
Fernandez de Kirchner, has continued the policies he pursued as president from
2002 to 2007. The big question now, analysts say, is whether the next president
will espouse Peronism, the populist mix of nationalism and social democracy
named after former president Juan Peron and largely adopted by the Kirchners.

That is by no means a sure thing.
The death of Kirchner, who was 60, will worsen in-fighting within the ruling
Peronist party, observers said, and while Fernandez could run, many say it will
be hard for her to win. Polls suggest that Kirchner’s own popularity may in
fact have faded considerably during his wife’s tenure.

Topping the current list of likely
contenders for the 2012 race are Kirchner’s former vice president Daniel
Scioli, currently the governor of Buenos Aires province, and Eduardo Duhalde, a
former president who christened Kirchner for his presidential run in 2002.

If Fernandez runs, the challenge
will be for her to gain her party’s support without her husband’s help, experts
said. The former president excelled at campaigning, and he commanded far more respect
from party loyals than Cristina does.

“She lost her main ally,”
Cardenas said.

Though a powerful
senator before becoming president, Fernandez hasn’t escaped the shadow of her
husband, who still made decisions behind the scene since exiting the nation’s
highest seat in 2007, experts said.