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ARGENTINA | 22-08-2020 09:53

Opposition applies pressure ahead of judicial reform battle

Juntos por el Cambio calls on Fernández administration to withdraw its judicial reform bill, which is set to enter Congress next week.

The stage is set for a congressional showdown next week, with Alberto Fernández’s judicial reform bill set to enter the Senate.

The proposed legislation, which underwent a series of last-minute modifications after committee hearings this week with more than 50 specialists, is due for debate in the Senate on Wednesday, where the government has quorum. It will subsequently head to the lower house Chamber of Deputies, however, where the ruling Frente de Todos coalition does not have a majority.

President Fernández says the reform package will "guarantee due process, expedite trials, and make justice independent from political power." But any move to get the bill through Congress is sure to be a tough battle.

Seeking to build on the momentum of the '17A' anti-government rally, opposition leaders on Tuesday called on President Alberto Fernández to drop the controversial reform.

A day after large anti-government protests nationwide, the Juntos por el Cambio bloc said in a letter sent to the Peronist leader on Tuesday declaring that his government should focus more on resolving the coronavirus pandemic and deep economic crisis, rather than rush through a reform of the justice system that lacks political consensus.

According to the leaders of Juntos por el Cambio, the bill “doesn’t accurately contribute to the climate of unity between Argentines, which you have repeatedly stated Mr. President and we share,” the opposition coalition wrote. “Today the priority is finding a way out of the economic and social crisis after the pandemic.”

Many opposition lawmakers have described the judicial reform bill as a thinly veiled attempt to ensure Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's legal woes are swept away. The former president faces a string of corruption cases against her in the courts.

Maintaining that there are no conditions for a debate on the Judiciary's future in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the centre-right coalition asserted that "any change in the functioning of the institutions, especially if it is concerns justice, requires a broad consensus among political parties, the sectors directly interested, social organisations and academic circles."

To do otherwise would fail to give the reforms "the necessary legitimacy to last over time, and away from suspicions and suspicions of grim interests," added the letter signed by the leaders of the parties in Juntos por el Cambio, the successor of the coalition that governed during the administration led by former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019).

The proposal would nearly double the number of federal judges in Argentina’s provinces, where many Peronist political leaders govern. The reform would also water down the power of one of the Comodoro Py federal courthouse, while some have theorised it will also lead to an expansion of the Supreme Court.

The judicial reform bill, unveiled on July 30 by President Fernández during a speech at the Casa Rosada, arrives at a delicate time, aggravating the country’s political divide just as some opposition leaders are trying to put aside differences to collaborate with the government on its response to Covid-19.

Some key political players did not sign the letter, including Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Macri himself, although the former president did tweet out support for the marchers, saying he was "proud of the thousands of Argentines who came out to say enough with fear and abuse, and yes to work, respect and freedom."

– TIMES/PERFIL/BLOOMBERG/AFP

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