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Tough showing for Kirchner's allies in Argentina midterm elections

Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's allies have taken a hit in the country's midterm elections. Her congressional majority is set to dwindle, paving the way for her exit in two years time.

Kirchner's former Cabinet chief, Sergio Massa, beat the president's hand-picked candidate Sunday by 12 points in the province of Buenos Aires, which contains nearly 40 percent of Argentina's more than 30 million voters.

With 72 percent of the votes counted, the governing Front for Victory won just 33 percent of the congressional votes overall. The result is a steep decline compared to the 54 percent Kirchner helped bring in when she won re-election in 2011.

Poor showing for Fernandez

Kirchner, Argentina's first democratically-elected female president, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in that election and the latest midterm vote is seen as paving the way for her exit in two years. Her shrunken congressional majority ends any hope of amending the constitution to allow her to run again in 2015.

The lackluster performance Sunday indicates that Argentines are growingly increasingly unhappy with Kirchner, whose presidency is quickly losing power. Her approval rating has plummeted to 30 percent since beginning her second term.

The 60-year-old Kirchner has been isolated in the run-up to the election, recovering from brain surgery throughout the election campaign. That operation was just the latest in a series of health problems, including low blood pressure and a thyroid tumor.

Massa takes center stage

Meanwhile, Massa's success on Sunday makes him a top candidate for the 2015 presidential vote. The 41-year-old Massa has split with Kirchner to form a splinter Peronist party.

Peronism, according to its supporters, represents a "third way" ideology: rejecting the extremes of capitalism and communism and promising social justice and economic independence. It has its roots in the political movement of former President Juan Domingo Peron and his second wife, Evita Peron. Opponents describe Peronism as a totalitarian ideology.

"We accept our differences, plurality, and as our Pope Francis says, harmony, which is the best way to build our society," Massa said Sunday evening, in a speech where he urged Argentina's politicians to "please listen to the message of the people."

dr,rc/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)