June 19, 2013
The jury is still out
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s latest opportunistic onslaught on the judiciary on the back of the mass outcry over the Marita Verón white slavery acquittals in Tucumán could go various different ways for several different reasons. Her call for a “democratization” of justice coupled with some entirely unsubstantiated allegations as to a venal verdict could be read as the cheapest populism — what quality of justice should we expect if “democratization” means the mob creating so much downtown havoc on Wednesday (we are referring here to the demonstrations against the Marita Verón verdict although it should be recognized that the Boca Juniors fans celebrating the 12/12/12 date on the same day were as bad or worse)? — but her comments might also serve a subtler strategic and institutional agenda. The obvious interpretation here is to view the outcry over the verdict as a new opening for CFK against the judiciary hampering implementation of her media legislation but might not an overhaul of the judicial system serve as a pretext for reviving the constitutional reform apparently silenced by the mass saucepan-banging five Thursdays ago?
If previous constitutional reform proposals floated the Anglo-Saxon institution of parliamentary democracy in order to camouflage the real agenda of seeking a third CFK term, a bid to revive constitutional reform now via judicial “democratization” might well be anchored on another venerable Anglo-Saxon institution — trial by jury. While an English-language newspaper cannot but hail any possibility of introducing these two institutions enshrined on both sides of the Atlantic, it is impossible to suppress a certain skepticism as to the motives. Thus parliamentary democracy could resemble Vladimir Putin’s Moscow more than Westminster by offering alternation between presidency and premiership as a Plan B for indefinite re-election. And any sudden enthusiasm now for trial by jury would look suspect given that it already figures in the Constitution and given that there have been at least two bills to put it into practice in the past decade, one in the wake of the Axel Blumberg kidnap-murder in 2004 and one introduced by CFK herself in 2006 while a senator — despite enjoying a comfortable Congress majority for over a year, the government has shown no interest until now in speeding up these initiatives.
Opportunistic populism, an invitation to mob rule or a prelude to major institutional changes dislocating the separation of powers — it remains to be seen in which direction presidential rhetoric is heading.