- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

BUENOS AIRES Last-minute political wrangling delayed the Argentine Congress from appointing an interim president last night as lawmakers quarreled over how long a caretaker should remain in office and when to call new elections.
The political roadblock came shortly before Congress was to name Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, a provincial governor, to fill the office vacated Thursday by Fernando De la Rua. Mr. De la Rua resigned after rioting that resulted in 26 deaths and 200 injuries.
Mr. Rodriguez Saa was chosen unanimously on Friday by his Peronist Party to take over from Senate leader Ramon Puerta, who was serving as acting president while congressional leaders sought a replacement.
But Mr. Rodriguez Saa had enough votes and his appointment as provisional president appeared nearly certain.
Late yesterday, three hours later than scheduled, Congress began what was likely to be a lengthy nighttime debate. Lawmakers were expected to negotiate over the length of Mr. Rodriguez Saa's term and an election date, and then vote to name him as head of the caretaker government. Lawmakers set a midday deadline today for filling the post.
Mr. Rodriguez Saa is expected to serve in the job which many in his own Peronist Party spurned for at least 60 days, until the new elections that have been tentatively scheduled for March 3. The leader elected then will finish out the two years of Mr. De la Rua's term.
His appointment restores Argentina's largest party, the Peronists, as the country's dominant political force after the worse unrest since the late 1980s, when another financial crisis gripped this country of 36 million people.
Mr. Rodriguez Saa's main role will be confronting a four-year recession that has pushed unemployment above 18 percent and has the country on the brink of default on its $132 billion public debt.
Serving as governor of San Luis province in western Argentina the past 18 years, he is known for his colorful rhetoric and populist touch, far different from Mr. De la Rua's solemn, technocratic style.
But it is his record in San Luis that perhaps will be most inspiring to Argentines, who grew increasingly angry over the belt-tightening policies enacted by Mr. De la Rua.
Mr. Rodriguez Saa transformed his province by bringing in modern industry to replace faltering mines, putting in reliable water systems and highways, and building 30,000 houses for the poor. With a low unemployment rate and reputation for good state schools, San Luis has become a magnet, growing in population from 220,000 in the 1980s to 350,000 today.
He was expected to outline an economic program after he assumed office.He reportedly has suggested that Argentina declare a moratorium on repaying its debt, and has vowed to try to retain a key economic law pegging the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar.
Polls indicated that a majority of Argentines support keeping the dollar peg in place despite increased warnings from many economists that only a currency devaluation can help.
Argentines wary of surging joblessness, poverty, salary cuts and tax hikes are deeply skeptical of more calls for belt-tightening.

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