Argentines begin to ponder post-Kirchner era with primary vote

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Argentines will get their first glimpse this weekend of how their South American country's political landscape may soon take shape as the curtain begins to close on a 12-year political dynasty led by populist President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

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On Sunday, Argentines will vote in a presidential primary that will serve as a barometer measuring the level of support for the leading candidates to replace Fernandez, a two-term leader who in 2007 succeeded her husband, the late former President Nestor Kirchner.

Most of the political parties and alliances have already chosen their candidates to compete in the Oct. 25 election, leaving little of the suspense you might expect in a typical primary. Fernandez, a fiery and polarizing leftist, is prohibited by the constitution from seeking a third term, but the frontrunner in the race represents the ruling party and vows to continue many of her policies.

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Polls show Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires and a former speedboat racer, as the leading contender in the presidential race.

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He enjoys around 35 percent support, falling short of the amount needed to avoid a potential run-off. Trailing him with around 30 percent is center-right Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, an outspoken critic of the president and the former head of one of Argentina's most popular soccer clubs, Boca Juniors.

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Sergio Massa, a former top aide to Fernandez’s husband and now an opponent of her government, is in third place with about 18 percent.

To obtain a first round victory in October, a candidate must win at least 45 percent of the vote — or 40 percent with a 10 point margin over the runner-up.

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The vote on Sunday, however, may not fully mark the beginning of the end of the Kirchner era, which saw Argentina recover dramatically from a devastating 2001-2002 economic crisis. Under former President Kirchner, the country achieved one of the world's fastest annual economic growth rates, establishing him and Fernandez as a power couple in the mold of Argentine political icons Juan and Eva Peron. At one point, they were even called the "Clintons of the South."

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Just how much of Fernandez's political influence will wane after she leaves office remains unclear. Scioli has tapped one of her most trusted advisors as his running mate, and a solid number of lawmakers allied with her are expected to win re-election.

Even though Fernandez has been dogged by a deteriorating economy, a weakening currency and a drumbeat of criticism from opponents about her heavy-handed style, she is preparing to leave office with more than 40 percent support, much of which is concentrated among the working-class.

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