Tuesday
August 22, 2017
Friday, May 12, 2017

Separation of powers, not exclusion

When the always latent conflict of interest suspicions surrounding the Mauricio Macri administration erupted into a major scandal a couple of months ago with the controversial Post Office debt agreement favouring his own family’s business group, Macri’s first instinct was to try and settle the matter by decree, thus bypassing the Congress supposedly at the heart of October’s elections — Macri would seem to have learned nothing from that failure to hush controversy because he is at it again, lining up a decree to regulate public works transparency, disregarding a Congress whose deputies have long been working on a multiparty bill to make public works contracts more transparent. Macri wants to play up the contrast with the Kirchnerite crony capitalism now being probed by the Lázaro Báez and other trials with a far more institutional approach but instead he is behaving very similarly to his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when she introduced AUH child benefits into 2009 — decreeing them into being to claim the credit before a bill already in Congress to that effect could be passed. If Macri really wants to banish all suspicion and make the process wholly institutional, he might try including the legislative as well the judicial branch in the regulation of public works contracts (together with the full range of government watchdogs). The parliamentary process would be far more useful for this purpose than a hasty executive decree because it would permit all the doubts and objections to be fully aired, thus saving possible (and predictable) future embarrassments.

So why Macri’s allergy to a Congress which might well hold the key to his administration’s future? If the name of the game in 2016 was consensus with Congress quite productive in terms of legislation following the government’s openness to parliamentary negotiation, in this electoral year the dominant note has been far more confrontation. The logic behind this is both offensive and defensive. Offensive because it obeys an electoral strategy of polarisation with Kirchnerism, widening the distance with this main rival while at the same time squeezing out last year’s tactical allies. And defensive because Macri’s coalition is in a minority in both Houses (especially in the Senate where he faces a solid Peronist majority) and he does not believe that in an election year the opposition will be able to resist the temptation to inflict some humiliating defeats on him if given the chance.

Yet if Macri wants to convince the citizenry that it is worth voting in these midterm elections because there is a serious parliamentary role in Argentina’s highly presidential democracy and if he wants to establish his own institutional credentials, then he needs to start treating Senate and the Lower House with a great deal more respect.

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