Argentines open-minded as women dominate election

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BUENOS AIRES, Oct 28 (Reuters) Latin America is known for having its share of macho strongmen leaders, but Argentina appeared set to elect its first woman president on Sunday and residents of its cosmopolitan capital seemed ready for change.

Front-running first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her second-placed rival, anti-corruption crusader Elisa Carrio are expected to capture as much as two-thirds of the ballots in the poll.

While their domination in the polls is unusual, prominent women are nothing new in Argentine politics.

The cult of ''Evita'' Peron, the second wife of former strongman Juan Peron, remains strong in Argentina, and party candidate lists must include a quota of women.

The country had its only other woman president in 1974, when Peron's third wife, Isabel, took over following his death. Now, most people said they are ready to pick the first female leader.

''Nowadays, women have the same position as men. Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years,'' said pensioner Jose Sanchez, 74, after voting for Carrio in the middle-class Buenos Aires neighborhood of Parque Patricios.

''I prefer her to Cristina because I don't like overbearing women,'' he added.

Apart from the fact that they are both lawyers, the two presidential rivals have little in common. Neither made much of a play for the women's vote on the campaign trail, perhaps aware that it could backfire and benefit the other.

In neighboring Chile, the 2006 election of Michelle Bachelet as the first women president shattered sexist taboos. Courting women voters became a top issue in Peru's presidential election last year due to the strong showing of conservative candidate, Lourdes Flores.

Residents of the capital traditionally see themselves as more European than Latin American, and few urban voters are perturbed that the two strongest candidates are women.

''I've got no problem at all with voting for a woman,'' said Gustavo Heredia, selling sweets outside the Parque Patricios polling station.

In rural areas, however, pollsters have said some older voters would think twice about voting for a woman.

In a country plagued by political corruption scandals, others think a woman might make a more honest leader.

''The good thing about women is that they're straighter,'' said Mirta Varela, 53, a housewife who voted for Carrio. ''They don't get themselves into so much weird, crooked stuff.'' REUTERS SZ PM9135

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