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Menem, Kirchner face runoff in Argentina presidential race

From Carolina Cayazzo

Menem, left, and Kirchner will meet in a runoff May 18.
Menem, left, and Kirchner will meet in a runoff May 18.

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A virtual dead heat between two Peronist candidates has Argentina's presidential election headed toward a runoff. CNN's Tim Lister reports (April 28)
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Argentina's former president, Carlos Menem, was headed for a runoff Sunday with fellow Peronist Party member Nestor Kirchner following the first round of presidential elections in the financially devastated country.

With more than 68 percent of the vote counted, the 72-year-old Menem had 23.93 percent of the vote and Kirchner had 21.69 percent. Both now advance to a runoff, scheduled for May 18.

Candidates needed 45 percent or more of the vote to avoid the second round.

Menem and Kirchner were among five candidates in the race to lead Argentina, a nation of 26 million people that has been dogged by the worst economic crisis in a generation.

Argentina's president for 10 years until 1999, Menem was blamed for sowing the seeds of the economic troubles by borrowing heavily and keeping the peso overvalued. But Menem has insisted his experience can help the country recover.

Kirchner, the little-known governor of the oil-rich Santa Cruz province, has the image of a moderate and prudent economic steward. He also had the backing of the outgoing caretaker government of President Eduardo Duhalde.

Though they belong to the same political party, the men have different views on how Argentina should go forward; Menem is a liberal who favors close ties with the United States, and Kirchner wants a closer relationship with Argentina's South American neighbors.

Analysts said the low percentages each man received reflect the people's discontent with the choices they had for president.

The three candidates who did not make the cut were Ricardo Lopez Murphy, an economist and favorite of investors; Elisa Carrio, who led a campaign against corruption; and Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, the third Peronist candidate.

Murphy is nicknamed "The Bulldog" for his aggressive approach to cutting spending and freezing pensions.

Saa was president for one week in December 2001 after President Fernando de la Rua was forced out following deadly rioting.

Whoever wins the presidency will have to deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Argentina defaulted on $95 billion in debt last year, and the IMF has demanded action after the elections on establishing a stable fiscal situation, banking reform, and having a monetary anchor.

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