- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (AP) - Argentine congressional elections have been moved forward four months in a push by the president to get campaign politics out of the way and focus on Argentina’s economic crisis.

The Senate on Thursday approved holding the election June 28, instead of in October. The lower house approved the bill last week.

Opposition leaders called the rescheduling an attempt by President Cristina Fernandez to lock in votes for political allies before her influence erodes further.

Nearly a dozen lawmakers have abandoned Fernandez’s Peronist party this year, and the economy is showing signs of stalling.

But Fernandez and lawmakers loyal to her Peronist party, which has a majority in both houses of Congress, said economic challenges were paramount in the decision.

“No one can deny that we’re facing an emergency situation, which must be addressed, and the government is doing that” by rescheduling the elections, Sen. Nicolas Fernandez said.

Come June, Voters will elect half the 256-member chamber of deputies and a third of the 72-member Senate.

On Wednesday night, the national statistics institute reported that Argentina’s economy grew at the slowest monthly rate since December 2002, as the global downturn curtailed demand for its soy, wheat, beef and corn exports and wary consumers tightened purse strings.

Since the crisis hit, Fernandez has announced projects to push millions of dollars into infrastructure projects and credit lines for consumers.

Last week she launched a government plan to funnel taxes on soy into an emergency economic aid fund for the country’s provinces, heightening tensions with thousands of striking farmers.

Nobel prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps said rescheduling the elections could rattle investors.

“You should have an overwhelming case for changing the rules before you do it,” he said. The net result is “unsettling for the business sector.”

Laura Alonso, executive director of the Buenos Aires-based anti-corruption group Poder Ciudadano, said that in the scramble to prepare for June elections, the ruling party has an advantage with more resources at its disposal.

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

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