Wednesday, July 24, 2024

ARGENTINA | 12-06-2024 23:24

Milei's 'Ley de Bases' bill wins Senate approval as VP Villarruel casts decisive vote

Senate gives general approval to President Milei's 'Ley de Bases' mega-reform bill after fresh round of amendments.

Javier Milei’s sweeping ‘Ley de Bases’ reform bill won general approval in the Senate late Wednesday night by a wafer-thin margin, with the President’s second-in-charge, Victoria Villarruel casting the deciding vote.

The dramatic scenes in the upper house were matched by serious incidents outside Congress as the federal security forces clashed with demonstrators.

The vote came after more than 12 hours of debate. After senators cast their votes – later voting chapter-by-chapter on the bill, which has more than 200 articles – the electronic screen in the upper house showed a 36-36 tie. 

Villarruel, who heads the Senate thanks to her role as Argentina’s vice-president, then delivered the casting blow with a speech that recalled her and Milei’s victory in last year’s presidential election run-off and referenced the violence outside.

"Today we saw two Argentinas: a violent one, which set fire to cars and threw stones, and which debates the exercise of democracy, and another, that of the workers, who are waiting with much pain and sacrifice for the vote that in November last year elected a change," said Villarruel.

"For those Argentines who suffer, who wait, who do not want to see their children leave the country ... my vote is affirmative," said the Senate leader. 

When the bill and its accompanying fiscal package is finally approved – which is expected early Thursday – it will return to the lower house Chamber of Deputies for final approval.

Rejections were cast by Unidad Ciudadana, Frente Nacional y Popular, the Santa Cruz caucus made up of José María Carambia and Natalia Gadano, and the UCR Senator Martín Lousteau.

La Libertad Avanza, which was just seven senators, scraped together enough support, mostly from the UCR, PRO and the Cambio Federal caucuses to swing the vote its way. 

The ruling party was forced to allow amendments to the bill to secure its passage. It gave ground on privatisations, removing Aerolíneas Argentinas, Correo Argentino and Radio y Televisión Argentina (RTA) from the list of state firms to be sold off, and powers relating to the dissolution of cultural bodies and institutions.

It also allowed changes to a pension moratorium and alterations to foreign exchange rules within its RIGI (Régimen de Incentivo para Grandes Inversiones) scheme designed to attract overseas investors.

The government also agreed to include an article that would allow the completion of public works that are 80 percent finished or that have international financing, in a nod to Lousteau, given that it was his express request.

The final vote came after more than 12 hours of debate and a long day that saw protesters demonstrating in rejection of the bill outside Congress clash with the security forces.

At least 18 arrests were reported by City Police after demonstrators threw rocks and set fire to at least two vehicles in the vicinity of the National Congress building. 

Police and Border Guards responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Five opposition Peronist deputies, who attended the demonstration, received medical attention after being tear gassed by the security forces.

Villarruel’s presence at the final vote was enabled by President Milei’s decision to delay a trip to Italy to attend a G7 summit in Italy. Government sources said he had no fixed departure time, given he is due to travel on the presidential plane.

If Milei had departed the country, his vice-president would have had to take over the running of the executive and the allied Provisional President of the Senate, Bartolomé Abdala, would have cast a double vote (i.e. as a sitting senator and then as the head of the upper house, having replaced Villarruel).

In a statement, the President's Office hailed the "historic approval" of its flagship bill.

The new "is a triumph of the Argentine people and the first step towards the recovery of our greatness, having approved the most ambitious legislative reform of the last 40 years," read a statement.

"The executive branch highlights the patriotic work of the senators who contributed their positive vote to the approval of this law, and hopes to continue counting on their commitment to leave behind the politics of failure and misery," the report added.


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