Argentine elections Sunday will test president’s policies

Argentina’s legislative elections Sunday will serve as a starting line for the race to succeed President Cristina Fernández in 2015, with her support in Congress too low for allies to push through constitutional changes to allow her to run again.

Recovering from surgery to remove blood from the surface of her brain this month after she fell and hit her head, Ms. Fernández, 60, has been unable to campaign for her candidates in the final stretch before the midterm vote.

Polls show her alliance could lose the majority it has had in both chambers of Congress since 2011, when Ms. Fernández won a second term on promises of increasing the government’s role in Latin America’s third biggest economy.

In play on Sunday and in 2015 is future policy in one of the world’s top grains exporters at a time of booming world food demand. Growers and other investors have long feuded with Ms. Fernández over her interventionist policies.

Argentina also is emerging as a potential oil and natural gas exporter. Its Vaca Muerta shale formation in Patagonia is expected to be one of the biggest of its kind, and it needs billions of dollars of development investment.

Candidates backed by Ms. Fernández won just 26 percent of the vote in a midterm primary vote in August, half of what her alliance got in 2011, and her handpicked congressional candidate had a poor showing in the must-win province of Buenos Aires.

Some legislators had said they wanted a constitutional amendment to allow Ms. Fernández to run for a third term, but those hopes were dashed by the poor showing in the primary. To push through reform, they would need two-thirds support in both houses.

In Sunday’s midterm, voters will choose half of the lower house of Congress and a third of the Senate.

Presidential hopeful Sergio Massa, the business-friendly mayor of Tigre, near the capital, could broaden his 5 percentage point advantage in opinion polls over rival Martin Insaurralde, Ms. Fernandez’s handpicked candidate in the strategic province of Buenos Aires.

If he does so, Massa, who vows to fight crime, combat inflation and improve farm profits, may be well positioned to run for president. But Argentine history shows midterm victors are rarely able to sustain momentum and clinch the nomination.

A dark horse could appear over the two years ahead, as was the case with former President Carlos Menem, who burst onto the scene in 1989, and Kirchner in 2003.

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