December 5, 2013
Not always third time lucky
The political significance of the Supreme Court’s Tuesday ruling lies not so much in the legal validity of the decision against permitting a third gubernatorial term in Santiago del Estero as in the choice of agenda — given that the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration had been pressing the justices hard for their long-delayed ruling on the 2009 Broadcasting Law, the Supreme Court was spelling out its independence in capital letters. Instead of following the government’s broad hints, the Supreme Court has opted to thwart the ambitions of one of CFK’s staunchest allies, Santiago del Estero’s pro-Kirchner Radical Governor Gerardo Zamora, who was the biggest winner in the August primaries with over 70 percent of the vote — the ruling (signed by four of the seven justices) is a last-minute obstacle only five days before Sunday’s midterm elections when Zamora was due to seek a third consecutive term. Ironically enough, the Supreme Court was responding to a lawsuit from Zamora’s own Radical party.
This political hot potato involves a couple of fundamental legal principles — whether a popular majority has an absolute value over constitutional rules and whether in a federal system any of the three national branches of government has the right to override a province’s definition of its own destiny. Zamora himself dismissed the ruling as a “proscription” — effectively disenfranchising a majority so overwhelming that all three senators and four deputies elected by the province’s 650,000 voters this Sunday could end up responding to the local strongman (the combination of being Kirchnerite and Radical casts a pretty wide net). As it happens, the ban on a third term also stems from Article 152 of the provincial constitution, which was thus being upheld and not contradicted at a national level. This would not of itself entitle the Supreme Court to meddle in a provincial matter but the ruling justified the intervention on the grounds of the supremacy of the national Constitution and the paramount quality of republican principles (against uncrowned monarchs as much as any King of Patagonia).
Evidently the Supreme Court regarded Zamora’s move as not just a Santiago del Estero problem but an “institutional experiment” with nationwide ramifications. If the August primary result effectively buried any CFK third term (despite Zamora’s landslide), Tuesday’s ruling can be projected from provincial to national level as retroactively heading off any such possibility there — the rift between the executive and judicial branches may be in abeyance yet is anything but healed.