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Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina's comeback president?

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was hugely unpopular among Argentines in 2009. But she is set to easily win reelection Sunday due to Argentina's economic rebound and weak opposition.

By Ed StockerContributor, Staff writer / October 22, 2011

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (l.) is hugged by her daughter Florencia after hearing early results of a nationwide primary in August, which she won handily.

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

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Buenos Aires and Mexico City

Soon after taking office in 2007 in a first-round victory, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner began butting heads: first with grain exporters, then with the news media. Critics called her arrogant, stubborn, and a puppet of her husband.

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That sentiment was reflected in midterm elections in 2009, during which her Peronist Party lost its absolute majority in both houses of Congress.

But now, two years later, Ms. Kirchner appears poised to once again easily regain the presidency when Argentines head to the polls on Sunday.

What is behind her turnaround?

Argentina's economic rebound

Kirchner has certainly benefited from a solid economic run that means Argentines, spooked by the prospect of economic crises, feel better off than they did a year ago. She has created and expanded new social programs. She also faces a weak, fractured opposition.

And, perhaps most important, she was buoyed politically by the unexpected death of her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, last year. Critics had claimed she made it to the presidency only on his coattails. With him gone, she not only has garnered sympathy but proved to many skeptics that she indeed knows how to run her own show.

"The economy started to recover. Then there was the death of Nestor, which had a strong impact because of its unexpectedness and turned Cristina into a widow one could sympathize with," says Federico Thomsen, a Buenos Aires-based economic and political analyst.

In 2008, less than a year after Kirchner assumed the presidency, she encountered massive protests when her government tried to increase taxes on grain exports. She eventually backed down, but it did not boost her political appeal. Battles with the media erupted, leading to claims she was censoring opponents. Later she slogged through an ongoing scandal over the veracity of national statistics on such measures as inflation, garnering her many critics like Alejandro Prud'homme, an industrial designer in Buenos Aires.

"There's more of a lack of free expression than in previous governments – those who don't like [the government's] way of thinking are generally cut off," he says.

Claims still swirl that she manipulates statistics and the media. But after the devastating midterm loss, a powerful antidote has emerged: the economy. The strength of trading partner Brazil, high commodities prices, and new markets in China have boosted Argentine budgets. With the windfall, Kirchner has invested more heavily in subsidies and social projects, like cash payments to poor mothers with kids. Unemployment is at 7.3 percent, its lowest level in 20 years.

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