A black swan emerged in the final sprint of the campaign and brought some “noise” into Sergio Massa’s strategy for the second round. The impeachment of the Supreme Court wasn’t even on the candidates’ agenda, and it was languishing in the margins.
But the issue has managed to slip into the spotlight recently, and it’s starting to look like it will be the opposition’s springboard to throw the candidate-minister off course and force him to strain the Unión por la Patria (UxP) coalition. That said, it was the ruling coalition itself that served them the chance to resuscitate the issue on a silver platter, an opportunity to win a few points by mortifying Massa. An attempt at damage control will start soon, but it will require a delicate balancing act to prevent further mishaps.
Incredibly, on October 19, in the week before the general elections, the secretary of the Chamber of Deputies’ impeachment commission went in person to the fourth floor of the Palace of Justice, together with a notifier and two other people. One of them was holding his cellphone up in a filming position, according to eyewitnesses. He was tasked with formally notifying the four Supreme Court Justices of the charges against them, brought by the ruling party’s majority in the commission, which rushed to close the investigation phase. These are the charges for which they believe the judges must be impeached.
Their visit didn’t go unnoticed inside a place that holds the largest number of lawyers per square meter in the entire city. They were obliged to respond within 10 working days, which they did last Thursday, in two written answers submitted individually by Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz, president and vice president of the Supreme Court. The Herald’s sister title, Ámbito, read their replies, which included barbed paragraphs about the commission’s work, the characteristics of the process, and the poor technical output of their conclusions.
Fallout from the impeachment attempt
Within UxP, people wondered why the judges had made the answers public, since the impeachment issue had been basically encapsulated. They replied that they had no choice after the visit of the notifiers, who knocked on every spokesperson’s door. There’s another curiosity about the date: four days before the election, the move only makes sense if they were imagining a scenario where Massa lost, and the action would no longer be viable the week before the runoff.
But what most infuriated Massa was an off-the-record statement that reached his ears, attributed to commission president Carolina Gaillard from Entre Ríos, who not only revealed the final indictment against the four justices, but added that they could finally approve it between November 13 and 17, if there was an extension of the ordinary voting sessions in Congress. In short, they showed their hand and raised the temperature the last week before the runoff.
To make matters worse, the shrapnel from the impeachment issue was not limited to Kirchnerism, which had gone all-in with the initiative from the start and wasn’t afraid of the consequences. Massa had also contributed two legislators to the process, and the candidate will pay a price for that. If Ramiro Gutiérrez ever imagined that his expertise and active role in the commission would help him get the Justice Ministry seat in a potential UxP government, his chances have started to evaporate. Sources close to Massa are harsh about that lack of foresight and recklessness. Given all of this, the loyalty scanners are also targeting Gaillard.
Added to the gruesome scenario this week was a leak of direct conversations between a congressman and a man who is in prison for spying on dozens of judges. Last weekend, faced with the unexpected storm, Massa’s people immediately started working to envisage the (possibly) least damaging scenarios — or at least, those that would help cool things down. It’s not simple, because it’s not as if they can opt out of the balancing act of the past year.
Managing rogue sectors
It’s no longer about organizing speeches and avoiding self-inflicted wounds, something the ruling party was managing well. Instead, it’s about managing coalition sectors that seem to have gone rogue, pursuing agenda goals that are not about winning the election.
The whole affair was a gift for Mauricio Macri, as he lays the groundwork to accuse the candidate of disrespecting the separation of powers, the institutions, and attacking justice, all because of the inherited impeachment. Yet the surprise wasn’t Macri’s tweets, but Juan Schiaretti’s — the first figure to go on the offensive as he tries to stem the flow of his leaders whose support Massa is trying to capture in Cordoba — and, in particular, Roberto Lavagna’s, who according to Massa’s own comments will play a key role in his future administration.
Followers of Coalición Cívica founder Lilita Carrió, PRO hardliners, and UCR members joined in almost by reflex. With this thorn in his side, Massa needs to make it through to November 19. If he ever had a political objective and a virtuous goal of uniting the ruling coalition, the issue became a dirty bomb for the campaign. It’s on the brink of exploding at the worst possible moment, and will have to be deactivated with care.