- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (AP) - President Cristina Fernandez on Friday proposed moving congressional elections forward by four months to let the government focus more on fighting economic problems and less on politics, but her critics called it a bald attempt to lock in votes before her political support erodes.

Fernandez’s proposal would shift midterm elections up to June 28 from Oct. 25. Voters will elect half the 256-member chamber of deputies and a third of the 72-member Senate.

“It would practically be suicide to involve Argentines from now until October in a permanent discussion of political positions while the world is falling to pieces,” she said in a televised address. Instead of campaigning, government resources should be directed toward “sustaining economic activity and the level of employment.”

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, a conservative opponent of Fernandez, had rescheduled the capital’s legislative elections to June 28 on Thursday in a bid analysts said was designed to give his party more time to organize for the national elections. Fernandez said Friday that it’s better for Argentines to vote once.

Nearly a dozen lawmakers have abandoned Fernandez’s party this year, citing political differences, but her Peronist party still has majorities in Congress, which must approve any change in election dates.

Opposition leaders said Friday’s announcement proves the government is worried about its increasingly tenuous stronghold in Congress and a recent loss in the legislative election in the province of Catamarca.

“It’s unfortunate that in Argentina we keep changing the rules of the game in elections according to the needs, convenience and possibility of success of the party in power,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, president of Poder Ciudadano, a Buenos Aires-based anti-corruption group, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Moving up the elections is “a clear sign of weakness and desperation,” said Daniel Kerner, an analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a letter to investors.

“The government is confirming that the political and economic situation is dire and the election’s outcome will determine the fate and survival of the government,” he wrote. “This will probably keep uncertainty high, adding pressure on the exchange rate and deposits,” as investors pull funds from South America’s second-largest economy and Argentines seek the relative safety of the dollar.

The global economic crisis has hurt Argentina’s soy, meat, corn and wheat exports, draining government coffers of billions of dollars and denting Fernandez’s popularity.

A February poll by the Poliarquia firm showed her with just 29 percent support, down from 50 percent when she took office in December 2007. The survey had a sampling error margin of 3 percentage points.

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