The New York Times
November 30, 1998
Buenos Aires Mayor to Lead Opposition in Argentina


           BUENOS AIRES -- The mayor of Buenos Aires, Fernando de la Rua, became the favorite to
           replace Carlos Saul Menem as president of Argentina by winning a landslide victory Sunday in
          a primary election to carry the banner of the center-left Alianza opposition coalition in next October's
          general election.

          The balloting followed a primary campaign, which inspired little excitement, between de la Rua, a
          cautious politician running on his record of improving the capital's finances, and Graciela Fernandez
          Meijide, a congresswoman from Buenos Aires province who promised a full-scale attack against
          government corruption.

          De la Rua appeared to benefit from the strength of his Radical Party's political machine and a
          construction and tourism boom in Buenos Aires that has given the city a new image of prosperity.

          De la Rua declared victory three hours after the polls closed, pledging "a fight against corruption" if
          he wins the presidential election. "We want an Argentina with more jobs and more development," he

          Ms. Fernandez Meijide conceded defeat and pledged to work for her opponent's election.

          "I'm not going to be a hypocrite and deny that I wish I had won," she said, "but this vote will lead to
          a reconstruction of our country."

          Based on early returns and exit polls, several television news stations projected that de la Rua would
          win more than 55 percent of the vote.

          The two candidates ran a close race in and around Buenos Aires, but de la Rua pulled away with a
          big victory in the provinces.

          A 61-year-old golf and tango aficionado who has been a government official and politician his entire
          professional life, de la Rua ran a traditional campaign complete with a trip to Rome to be
          photographed with Pope John Paul II.

          Few political experts think he would take the country in any dramatic new directions should he take
          power in early 2000.

          Sunday, appearing on television before the polls closed in an ascot and double-breasted blue blazer,
          he projected a cool confidence, saying, "Like any other Sunday, I'm eating lunch with my family and
          going to Mass."

          In televised debates and other campaign appearances, the two candidates in the primary election
          went out of their way to minimize policy differences and to emphasize their desire to stay united to
          defeat the governing party.

          They hugged in public and jointly endorsed the Alianza platform, which pledged to crack down on
          corruption, take political influence out of the judicial system, and funnel more government funds into
          education, job training and credits for small business.

          The Alianza platform also promised to double exports, to $50 billion a year by 2003, and to reduce
          the unemployment rate to 6 percent from the current rate of over 12 percent. But the platform did
          not offer many specifics on how the goals would be accomplished.

          Both candidates also said that if elected they would not diverge from Menem's major economic
          policies -- neither reversing his sweeping privatizations nor his one-to-one peg of the peso to the
          dollar. Those actions brought Argentina's chronic hyperinflation under control and enticed a
          spectacular volume of foreign investment over the last eight years.

          De la Rua's Radical Party, traditionally the party of Argentina's middle class, and Ms. Fernandez
          Meijide's Frepaso, a more liberal party that broke away from the ruling Justicialist Party, cobbled
          together a coalition last year and managed to gain control of the lower house of Congress in elections
          last October. De la Rua has agreed to choose a member of Frepaso as his vice presidential running

          The candidacy of Ms. Fernandez Meijide, a 67-year-old former French teacher who is a Benny
          Goodman fan and sews her own clothes, received worldwide attention because one of her three
          children was kidnapped by the security forces during the military dictatorship in 1976 and never seen
          again. But while voters seemed to like her image as an outsider, she was so careful not to appear
          threatening or too liberal that she stirred little enthusiasm among voters.

          On television Sunday, she appeared as a motherly figure, stirring a pot of risotto in a cramped
          kitchen. "We're going to work hard to keep the Alianza strong and united through the campaign," she
          said. "We understand that the nation needs to make changes."

          Recent polls indicated that each of the coalition's candidates would be comfortably ahead of
          Eduardo Duhalde, governor of Buenos Aires province, who is favored to win the Justicialist primary
          next April. The former finance minister, Domingo Cavallo, the architect of Menem's economic
          program, is running far behind on a third-party ticket, but he may play the role of the spoiler.

          The Justicialist Party, which still carries the flag of the late President Juan Domingo Peron and his
          wife Eva, remains the largest and most powerful political force in the country. But the party is deeply
          divided between Duhalde and Menem, who tried to run for re-election despite a constitutional ban.
          His candidacy was blocked by party leaders.

          Menem is jockeying to remain leader of the party after he leaves office in early 2000, but Duhalde is
          trying to block his efforts in party councils and the courts.

          Duhalde is doing his best to distance himself from Menem because of a series of scandals that has
          implicated several Cabinet members in recent months as well as a persistently high unemployment
          rate that many economists predict will go up in the coming months because of the deepening
          recession in neighboring Brazil.

          De la Rua and Cavallo contend that the nation needs to reject not just Menem but also his party, an
          argument that polls indicate appears to strike a chord with a large proportion of voters.

          A poll published Sunday in Clarin, Argentina's leading circulation newspaper, indicates that the three
          issues that most concern Argentine voters are unemployment, corruption and the increase in reported

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