Explainer: Tucumán suspends elections amid legal controversy

An in-depth look at the legal battle behind the explosive Supreme Court fallout

Tucumán Governor Juan Manzur signed a decree today suspending the provincial elections scheduled for this Sunday — they had already been postponed by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Manzur planned on running on May 14 for vice governor, following two stints in that role prior to becoming governor in 2015 for the ruling coalition Frente de Todos (FdT). However, the Supreme Court declared his bid to be unconstitutional under Article 90 of the Tucumán constitution as well as articles one and five of the National Constitution. The Court simultaneously issued a similar ruling for San Juan’s governor Sergio Uñac, who was planning to run for a third term.

According to today’s decree by Tucumán’s government, the Court’s ruling “inexorably affects the calling of the rest of the authorities scheduled for that day.” As well as voting for a new governor and vice governor, the province was meant to vote for 49 provincial legislators, 19 mayors, 184 councilors, and 93 communal commissioners.

The decree was signed yesterday by Governor Manzur, the Minister of Government and Justice, Carolina Vargas Aignasse, and the Secretary of State for Government and Institutional Relations, Luis Armando Campos. 

Tucumán’s rationale behind suspending the elections in their entirety, as established by the Supreme Court earlier this week, comes from Article 43, paragraph 13 of the provincial constitution —  “all elections must be held on a single day, without the authorities being able to suspend them at any time.” 

Judicial sources told the Herald yesterday that the Supreme Court ruling barred the elections — not just the candidates — because the ruling is not definitive and they did not want to run the risk of undermining the vote by finding them eligible after the fact. 

Inside the legal battle

The Supreme Court ruling was the result of legal action taken by Germán Enrique Alfaro, member of the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) calling for Manzur’s candidacy to be declared unconstitutional via a acción de amparo, or writ of protection — a common recourse in Latin American law. 

According to Article 43 of the National Constitution, the requested writ can provide a temporary safeguard as a last resort when defining whether or not something is constitutional is pressing or urgent. What follows is a process in which the parties involved must present reports in order for it to decide on the underlying issue.

Tucumán’s State Prosecutor, Federico Nazur presented the provincial government’s report yesterday. In it, Nazur said the Court’s ruling was “an invasion of the provincial autonomy.” 

“[The court’s ruling] caused very serious damage to the exercise of electoral rights, whose preparatory schemes were at an advanced stage given the proximity of the date of the elections, since the ruling was issued less than five days before the provincial election, generating an unusual setback and disturbance in the electoral development proper of a system of representative democracy in the Argentine Republic.”

Nazur had also submitted an appeal for reversal which the Supreme Court rejected today.

The Supreme Court’s decision has caused a considerable political fallout: government politicians like President Alberto Fernández condemned the suspensions as anti-democratic while the opposition celebrated what it considers to be a victory. The Association of Magistrates and Judicial Workers condemned the president’s remarks in a press release, saying that “attacking the judiciary for the content of its decisions has become a constant.”

“They [the Supreme Court] established the suspension until they rule about the underlying issue. The national law gives them 48 hours to do so, but generally, the Court neglects the established terms,” Tucumán’s Ministry of Government Carolina Vargas Aignasse told the Herald. 

“So, they not only suspended an election a few days before it was supposed to take place, but we also do not have any hint regarding when they will make a decision.”

While regulatory law establishes that the court has 48 hours to rule on the underlying issue once the reports are received, judicial sources told the Herald that this does not in fact apply to the Supreme Court — for example, Article 113 of the Constitution dictates that it can “adopt its own internal regulations.”

Today, federal prosecutor Federico Delgado called for a new law to rectify that. 

“We will be condemned to live with this sort of uncertainty as long as we don’t make these little corrections,” he said on Somos Radio.

Manzur has told the media that he is not thinking of quitting the race yet. Sources in the Tucumán government told the Herald that, if he did, “times could accelerate” since it is his candidacy the one being questioned — however, they said that no decision has been made yet.

Reporting by Facundo Iglesia and Valen Iricibar, with information from Télam


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