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Sympathy, suspicion as Argentine President Kirchner goes on leave due to head injury

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Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

(Read caption) Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner listens to Uruguay's President Jose Mujica while he addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 24, 2013.

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

[Doctors have ordered] Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to take a month off work after a traumatic head injury two months ago.
 
 Everyone including some of her harshest critics wished the president the best after the announcement was made. Argentina's politics can be rough, but it's a good sign for the country that all the sides have some civility. Everyone wants her to recover and finish out her term.
 
 The opposition, correctly and gently, is criticizing the lack of disclosure on the illness. If the president had this fall and major head injury two months ago that has been affecting her work, it was in the public's right to know. It's not incorrect to wish the president well while also criticizing the secrecy with which the president's health has been managed.

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 As I've written previously, vice presidents and lines of succession matter. In a region that is heavily focused on presidential power, analysts and voters often ignore the person next in line (until it suddenly matters). A qualified VP can make a brief interim presidency or a transition process smooth while an unqualified VP can be incredibly destabilizing and damaging.
 
 In this particular case, VP [Amado] Boudou will be the interim president (de facto, if not legally) for the next month. Mr. Boudou has proven himself to be very loyal to CFK, but the corruption scandals following him have been an annoyance to the administration. Interim presidents are usually reserved and do not make waves, but in Boudou's case, this month-long period may be his opportunity to improve his political standing and set himself up for a future run at the office. I highly doubt he'd make any major policy decision before consulting CFK, but how he manages the tone and public opinion of those decisions, as well as the next few weeks of campaigning, could greatly impact his political career.
 
 The media are already asking how this injury will affect the congressional elections on Oct. 27. It probably won't change the expected outcome of CFK losing seats in the Congress. The president's poll ratings are low. Though she may receive a "sympathy bounce," her party's ability to translate that bounce into congressional votes will not be easy. However, unless there is one clear winner, calling the elections an opposition victory will be tough as there is no clear definition to the opposition in Argentina. The parties and candidates opposed to the president span the ideological spectrum and don't have any unifying agenda.

James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Latin America, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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