Argentine leader courts voters with "TVs for All"
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - When Argentina's president revealed last month on live television she would run for re-election, her accompanying announcement offered "TVs for All".
The initiative, which aims to help thousands of Argentines buy flat-screen TVs with low-cost loans, is part of President Cristina Fernandez's plan to maintain brisk consumer spending and court lower-income voters before an October 23 election.
"TVs for All" accompanies sister initiatives "Beef for All" and "Fish for All," in which food trucks supply reasonably priced steaks and hake to poorer parts of the capital where high inflation is eroding purchasing power.
The programs are meant to curb skyrocketing consumer prices in Latin America's third largest economy. They have won praise from lower-income Argentines who are prepared to wait in sometimes long, slow lines for subsidized goods.
Private economists and opposition politicians dub the initiatives as populist election ploys that will have little effect on double-digit inflation.
The government has not disclosed the cost of the programs. Some in the opposition say they will mainly benefit food businessmen with close ties to the ruling Peronist party.
"We want to reach every single home," Fernandez, who has a wide lead in opinion polls, said as she announced "TVs for All".
Earlier this week, Fernandez unveiled programs to supply affordable milk, cheese, yogurt and pork -- "Pork for All" and "Dairy products for All" -- drawing criticism from the opposition three months from the presidential vote.
"These measures are nothing but campaign marketing ... sending some trucks to squares to deliver pork and milk isn't a plan, it's a publicity stunt," said opposition lawmaker Christian Gribaudo.
Fernandez shuns orthodox monetary policy as a way to tame inflation estimated privately at more than 20 percent. She has used price agreements and export curbs to keep prices down.
Government officials blame inflation on retailers and big business. The government has sought to silence economists whose estimates more than double the rate reported by the discredited official statistics agency.
Despite surging prices, opinion polls show most Argentines are more concerned about crime than inflation as Latin America's No. 3 economy grows by about 9 percent per year.
Still, schemes like "Beef for All" and "TVs for All" are a sign the president is worried about the impact of inflation on lower-income Argentines -- a key part of her support base.
Pensioners will be the first to benefit from credits being supplied by state-run bank Banco Nacion, allowing them to buy LCDs in 60 installments at a very low interest rate. Many retirees say their pensions have not kept pace with inflation despite a series of increases.
Most economic analysts say the best way to tackle inflation would be to rein in public spending growing at about 30 percent per year and put the brakes on economic growth.
"The government's implementing these programs in Buenos Aires province, where the election will be decided," said economic analyst Jorge Todesca, who also ran as an opposition mayoral candidate in the capital this month. "These plans ... will barely affect inflation."
However, for poorer consumers the cut-price steak program is a help with the weekly food bills.
"This meat isn't that good ... but if it wasn't for this initiative I wouldn't be able to buy meat at all," said Carlos Gomez, 46, outside a "Beef for All" outlet in the capital. He plans to vote for Fernandez in October.
(Editing by Helen Popper, Theodore d'Afflisio and Andrew Hay)
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