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Government loses ground in vote

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has failed the first electoral test of her second term.

Her party's candidates trailed opponents across Argentina's most populous provinces in congressional primaries. If the voting pattern repeated in October's elections, she could lose control of congress during the final two years of her rule.

The governing party remains the only political force in Argentina with a nationwide organisation, but her opponents are catching up, especially in the all-important province of Buenos Aires. With 52% of the vote counted in the suburbs around Argentina's capital, Sergio Massa's Renewal Front was leading the president's hand-picked candidate, Martin Insaurralde, by 34% to 29%.

The governing Front for Victory party got the most votes in six of seven provinces with senate races. But its candidates for the house of deputies led in only eight of Argentina's 23 provinces and trailed in all of the most populous provinces as well as the city of Buenos Aires. Mr Massa, who broke from Ms Fernandez only 40 days before the primaries, sounded more like a presidential candidate than a campaigner for congress in his victory speech.

He invited people from across the political landscape to join him in a new movement that would rule from the centre, build coalitions and protect the middle class, a group he said had been neglected by Ms Fernandez. "We have to think of the future. We have to learn to stop looking at the past as a way to build a future for all Argentines," he said.

Ms Fernandez won re-election nearly two years ago with 54% of the vote, but her popularity has dropped since then amid corruption scandals, and growing discontent over inflation and deteriorating public services.

She refused to concede any defeat and warned Argentines not to trust politicians who make promises they cannot keep. "There may be other politicians showing up offering something different," she said. "I ask that all of you think about what we've done in the last 10 years."

With half the seats in congress and a third of seats in the senate up for grabs on October 27, the results could determine whether Ms Fernandez will have new checks on her power. Currently, she does not need the votes of any opposition politicians to provide the majorities she needs to push through legislation.

If her opponents control at least a third of the seats, they could end any chance of changing the constitution to eliminate the two-term limit on presidencies.

Whoever wins big in October could become a leading candidate to succeed her in 2015. This was the first election to include 16 and 17-year-olds, a new block of more than a half million voters that Ms Fernandez in particular has courted. In all, more than 70% of 30 million registered voters cast ballots.

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