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OP-ED | 13-05-2023 09:07

Much ado about almost nothing

One constant of the current administration has been to prioritise the political and the judicial over the economic and the social, with this week a case in point.

One constant of the current administration has been to prioritise the political and the judicial over the economic and the social, with this week a case in point – President Alberto Fernández evidently felt more comfortable fulminating against Supreme Court interference in provincial elections in his midweek nationwide broadcast than in trying to explain yesterday’s alarming April inflation figure, which is sure to push those below the poverty line ever closer to half the population. That inflation figure was in turn another example of the economic being subordinated to the political in the form of the brief attempt to postpone the announcement until next Monday, in order to minimise the impact on tomorrow’s provincial elections.

Yet the importance of both last Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling and yesterday’s inflation announcement has been exaggerated. The attempted postponement was worse than useless because the general public knows full well from everyday shopping that prices are going up without waiting for INDEC national statistics bureau to tell them by how much exactly – instead the move was counterproductive because it led to a general assumption that inflation must be even worse than it is, feeding an alarmism about hyperinflation which cannot be considered to be around the corner while the vast majority of prices and transactions continue to be in pesos.

Unfortunate as the timing of the Supreme Court ruling on the eve of tomorrow’s election was, it is entirely consistent with previous decisions rather than an arbitrary escalation of judicial branch aggression against the Frente de Todos government and federalism, as the presidential argument would claim. If the bids of San Juan and Tucumán Governors Sergio Uñac and Juan Manzur for a fourth or fifth consecutive place on a gubernatorial ticket have now been thwarted, two of the three previous targets of similar Supreme Court rulings are now sitting very pretty – Gerardo Zamora (whose 2013 bid for a third consecutive term was blocked five days before the provincial election, just like now) governs Santiago del Estero today while Alberto Weretlineck (forced to step aside in 2019 when the Supreme Court upheld the objections of the same Martín Soria who is now as Justice minister blasting the justices for doing what he had earlier asked them to do) won last month’s provincial elections to make a comeback as Río Negro governor. Peronism still has a gubernatorial candidate in both San Juan and Tucumán – ex-governor José Luis Gioja and Osvaldo Jaldo (already acting governor while Manzur was Cabinet chief) respectively. The government party thus has far less claim to be victims of this untimely Supreme Court ruling than the thousands of ordinary people who have worked hard to set in motion an electoral process now suspended.

Despite all the fuss now, past experience has shown such Supreme Court rulings to be neither revolutionary nor counter-revolutionary – the examples of Santiago del Estero and Río Negro mentioned above (to which may be added La Rioja, also included in the 2019 ruling and now heading into 44 straight years of Peronist rule with the re-election of Ricardo Quintela last Sunday) show that they have done nothing to break the striking continuity of provincial strongmen. This continuity shows little sign of changing this year with the elections in almost a quarter of the provinces already held – only one alteration of party label so far with the end of six straight decades of Neuquén Popular Movement electoral victories not so much any genuine alternation as an offshoot of that movement narrowly defeating its official candidate with opposition support. That alternation more characteristic of democracy is not going to come from sporadic court action against individual bids to personalise the endless continuity of provincial party machines, where the key to perpetuating often mediocre administrations should rather be traced to federal revenue-sharing, swollen public-sector payrolls and political patronage.

Once again a week’s dominant news item is serving as a smokescreen to cloak a failure to tackle the real problems with government outrage over the Supreme Court’s interference into provincial voting triggering knee-jerk opposition indignation over Peronist institutional disdain while the former continues to produce no plan beyond the ad hoc improvisations of Economy Minister Sergio Massa and the latter has yet to put forward a constructive alternative.     ​

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