, BUENOS AIRES, Jun 30 – A major electoral defeat for Argentina’s first family has upended the country’s politics and thrown the future of the policies of President Cristina Kirchner and her husband into doubt.
Nestor Kirchner, the former president who handed the reins of power to his wife in 2007, resigned as head of the Peronist Party on Monday, following a mid-term election rout.
The Kirchners lost their majority in the 72-member Senate, where they will now be forced to build an alliance in order to continue governing, and shed seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies as well.
President Kirchner, at a rare post-election press conference, said her party and its allies now "must negotiate and reach consensus" with other blocs.
"The government is going to require an exercise in consensus and agreements in order to govern, but building consensus also depends on the other parties," she said.
Kirchner said her seats dropped to 35 from 37 in the Senate, where her allies also shrank by two. And in the 256-member lower house her lawmakers dropped eight seats, to 107 from 115, not counting allies from other parties.
But the 56-year-old leader insisted she had no plans to shake up her cabinet, other than to replace Graciela Ocana who resigned her post as health minister.
"I don’t see the need to make changes in the cabinet because of the election results," Kirchner said.
Her husband Nestor Kirchner was soundly defeated in Buenos Aires province, where 40 percent of Argentina’s voters live, by rival Francisco De Narvaez who represents a strain within the Peronist movement that favors a return to neoliberal ideas.
The ex-president said his decision to resign was "irreversible" and called on his running mate, governor of Buenos Aires province Daniel Scioli, to "take on the challenge of assuming control of the party," official news agency Telam reported.
The Kirchners were defeated in the capital and Buenos Aires province, in major provinces including Santa Fe, Cordoba and Mendoza, and even in their stronghold Santa Cruz.
The pair had built their political success on Argentina’s return to growth after the 2001-2002 economic crisis, but had suffered amid the country’s current financial downturn.
Economists say Argentina is entering a recession, despite government figures that suggest otherwise.
Kirchner’s opponent De Narvaez, a wealthy tycoon who spent millions on his campaign, boasted Monday that "we have turned a page in Argentine history."
"A new history will dawn in the life of every Argentine," he said.
But even with the opposition winning 70 percent of the vote, it remains sharply divided between right-leaning Peronists, Social Democrats and small leftist parties.
Ricardo Alfonsin, a center-right opposition leader who won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, praised the performance of an alliance between center-right and center-left liberal politicians.
"We have now become the main opposition force," said the son of former president Raul Alfonsin.
The elections, in which half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third in the Senate were in play, produced some clues about the future of Argentine politics.
Former Formula One driver Carlos Reutemann, the mayor of Buenos Aires Mauricio Macri and Vice President Julio Cobos now all appear to be potential presidential contenders in 2011.
Senator Reutemann, 67, a Peronist dissident, came out on top in Sante Fe province, overcoming an alliance of socialists and liberals.
He broke with the government in February, declaring he would not take part in a confrontation with farmers over a government plan to raise export taxes on soy beans by 25 percent which led to months of bitter protests.
The conflict seriously damaged President Kirchner’s reputation and prompted a drop in her popularity ratings from 55 percent to 30 percent.
Macri, 50, also saw his presidential chances strengthened with the victory of the head of his list, Gabriela Michetti, and his ally De Narvaez’s rout of Kirchner.
Cobos, who gained prominence in 2008 after casting a crucial vote in the Senate against President Kirchner, saw his candidates win in Mendoza with almost 50 percent of the vote.
A 54-year-old engineer, Cobos left his own party to rejoin the Kirchners, but he became popular because of his support for farmers despite opposition from the government.