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Boost for Alfonsin

Last Sunday’s elections in Argentina were a resounding vote of confidence for President Raul Alfonsin. He can dig in on the next phases of his programs knowing that his sometimes controversial effort to create economic and political stability still commands the support of most Argentines.

Nearly complete voting returns indicate that Alfonsin’s Radical Party won more than 44% of the vote, compared to 35% for the Peronists--the one rival party of major significance. That would give the Radicals an even larger majority in the 254-seat House of Deputies against the Peronists, who are badly divided into squabbling factions, and several small parties. Just as noteworthy were Radical victories in 10 of 15 provincial elections, for they mean that Alfonsin’s appeal extends beyond Buenos Aires, the nation’s biggest city.

In the final weeks of campaigning there was concern over a possible resurgence of the political violence that has marred recent Argentine history. A series of bombings and bomb threats disrupted life enough to prompt Alfonsin, as staunch a democrat as can be found in Latin America, to impose a state of siege throughout the country. The government believes that the bombings were part of a right-wing plot to provoke the Argentine military into a coup against Alfonsin.

States of siege are used in Latin America to control political dissent when it spills over into anti-government violence. Too often they have also been abused by limiting peaceful and legitimate criticism. To Alfonsin’s credit, his government used the state of siege only to detain a dozen suspects in the bomb plots. Otherwise electoral activity proceeded unhindered.

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It should now be clear, however, that the state of siege was unnecessary and must be lifted as soon as possible. The vote count is a clear sign that Alfonsin doesn’t need extraordinary measures to protect his government. He already has at hand the most effective tool that democracy can offer--the support of the people.


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