In Argentina, the vote is for or against the legendary Peron
Buenos Aires, Argentina — Their names are Luder and Alfonsin. One will become Argentina's next president in voting this Sunday. But as their fellow countrymen go to the polls, the votes cast will probably be for - or against - the legendary Juan Domingo Peron.
Peron passed on nine years ago, but he so dominated Argentine political life from the 1940s to the 1970s that his memory will not go away.
Mention the Peron name at a political rally and, as Italo Argentino Luder, the Peronista candidate, knows, it is certain to bring down the house.
''Peron Vive!'' (Peron lives) shout youths who were barely in grade school when Juan Peron was last president.
Not all Argentines, however, are swept up in the Peron fervor. A campaign rally for Radical Party candidate Raul Alfonsin, drew about 800,000 Argentines this week - making it one of the largest in modern Argentine history.
Juan Peron might as well be ''the devil incarnate,'' says one Alfonsin supporter.
Some say the Argentine election could end in a photo finish. Candidates Luder and Alfonsin are the two front-runners in a field of eight presidential hopefuls so close in opinion polls that few want to make predictions about the outcome of this first election in a decade. The turnout at rallies like Alfonsin's is being closely watched.
Whoever wins will take the reins of government from a badly demoralized and castigated military junta that has ruled Argentina for seven years. The military took power away from Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, widow of Mr. Peron.
If anyone appears to have an edge, it is the Peronista candidate, Mr. Luder, many Argentines say. Luder is a longtime Peron loyalist from the northern province of Santa Fe. A lawyer, he is a former president of the Argentine Senate , a man of quiet dignity and charm.
But Mr. Alfonsin, a lawyer and former congressman, is no less charming. And he has reshaped the Radical Party into a strong, rival to the Peronista party, Argentine's largest political group.
At first glance, the two seem to have similar views on politics, economics, and society. They both stand in horror of the repressive military tactics and rule over the past seven years.
Thousands of Argentines disappeared in a military vendetta that began in the mid-'70s as an effort to rid the nation of terrorists. But the military netted scores of innocent Argentines in the process. Most Argentines seem to want to punish the military for these actions and adamantly oppose a controversial amnesty for the military recently declared by the government. The amnesty would block the next civilian government from prosecuting and punishing those guilty of repression.
Yet Luder and Alfonsin know that too much pressure on the military could lead to a new military takeover. They know only one government in Argentina has completed its term in 53 years.
On economic matters, both men favor the renegotiation of Argentina's $40 billion foreign debt. But Alfonsin is more likely to take a nationalistic stand on the issue. He blames foreign banks and the United States for many of Argentina's economic problems.
Luder is more cautious on this issue. ''Argentina will meet its obligations, '' he says, but he adds that he expects banks ''to be ready to change their position, not to be too rigid.''
The more the two men are probed, however, some fundamental differences crop up. These differences are also part of the Peron phenomenon.
The Peronistas represent the working class and the rural poor, while the Radicals are essentially middle class.
Alfonsin is trying to broading the Radical base by appealing to labor as well as the middle class. Luder, likewise, is trying to broaden his base with appeals to the middle class. Both candidates have had some success in broadening their bases.
The fact that Alfonsin is doing well in opinion polls suggests that he has broaded his party support.
But Peronism, with its somewhat vague concepts of social justice and appeal to vested interests, is believed the best-known party. This could give Luder the edge.
Back in 1975, after Peron's passing, Luder summed up Argentine voting patterns: ''Most Argentines, for two or three generations more, will continue voting for Peron, no matter the candidate's name.''
They may well do it this Sunday.