Tuesday
June 27, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017

Separation of powers, not exclusion

If this October’s midterm elections are exclusively devoted to Congress (renewing a third of the Senate seats and half the Lower House), why is the Mauricio Macri presidency showing so little interest in including the legislative branch in governance? Macri’s attempt to settle the conflict of interest doubts raised by the controversial Post Office debt agreement (favouring his own father’s business group) by decree is only one example of a general tendency to bypass Congress but it is a good example. A hasty decree is wholly inade-quate for hushing this controversy — far better to present a bill in Congress so that all the doubts and objections can be aired and answered. Macri would even be doing himself a favour because a full debate on this issue would bring to light various potential conflicts of interest which had perhaps not occurred to the government, thus saving future embarrassments (quite apart from having to order the Post Office agreement to start again from scratch, Macri recently had to postpone granting air frequencies to an Avianca which had recently bought MacAir from his father’s business group). As the number of labour disputes continues to grow, Macri insists that he prefers dialogue to confrontation but this urge to rule by decree while sidelining Congress seems to contradict that claim. During his successful 2015 election campaign, Macri was constantly deploring Kirchnerite authoritarianism but his own style does not appear institutionally superior.
It is not very difficult to discern the motive for Macri’s allergy to parliamentary procedure — since his coalition is in a minority in both Houses (and even faces a solid Peronist majority in the Senate), he obviously fears being exposed to humiliating defeats. And while last summer a similar aversion to a nominally hostile Congress quickly changed when Peronist fragmentation in the Lower House and an extremely co-operative Senate Majority Leader Miguel Angel Pichetto in the Upper opened doors to him (so much so that he called for extraordinary sessions four weeks ahead of the normal start of the parliamentary year), Macri’s mistrust is more permanent this year — quite apart from the ultra-Kirchnerite hard core, he seems to lack faith that even the more moderate members of the opposition who voted for much of his legislation last year will be able to resist the temptation of some electoral grandstanding at his expense (and here he might well be right).
Yet Macri has no real choice — if he wants the citizenry to take these elections seriously as voting for a Congress with a role in government and if he wants to make an institutional contrast with alleged Kirchnerite and Peronist authoritarianism, he will need to balance Argentina’s highly presidential democracy with a greater parliamentary voice.                                              w
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