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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.

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"Everything Cristina has had to deal with have been tests that she overcame, and I think the population has noted this," says Gonzalo Rodríguez, an activist and Kirchner supporter. "She has transformed herself into a great political leader, and I think people realize this, even those who don't like her."

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A divided opposition

Like many countries in Latin America, the opposition in Argentina has been unable to unite and field a viable alternative to the incumbent. In primaries in August, Kirchner was the clear front-runner, and polls leading up to the Oct. 23 election showed she could gain more than 50 percent of the vote this month. To win in the first round, a candidate needs 45 percent of the vote or more than 40 percent and be 10 points ahead of the closest contender.

"The opposition wasted the opportunity handed to it by the people," says election monitor Javier Tejerizo. "In the last two years, they haven't achieved anything substantial in Congress and have splintered through internal fighting."

But Kirchner's opposition says she has just been fortunate to preside during good times, and that troubling signs are on the horizon, including a weakening economy and government policies that are not focused on long-term growth.

"We're growing only on the back of commodities exports – and soy in particular," says Miguel Bazze, an opposition candidate for the national legislature. "Hopefully this will last many decades. But when a country is growing economically, one has to take advantage of the situation by diversifying the economy."

Out of her husband's shadow

When Kirchner came to power immediately after her husband's administration, critics said the two aimed to rule back to back indefinitely, since presidents cannot run for a third term but can become candidates again if they step out for one cycle. But with Mr. Kirchner out of the picture, those fears have been allayed.

More important, many say, by presiding alone she has been more open to compromise. Even though Nestor Kirchner is widely credited for steering Argentina out of its 2001-02 economic crisis, his combative style won him many enemies.

Mark Jones, an expert on Argentina at Rice University in Houston, says Ms. Kirch­ner lost support because her husband had so many foes. "Nestor's passing allowed Cristina to break out of his confrontational type of politics," he says.

Some, like Pascual Vallejo, have been fans all along. Before, he says, "the country suffered a lot – too much. Now, with Cristina, there's work, there's health care – a bit of everything with her."

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