December 12, 2013
There is nothing worse, for the old school hack at least, than the press having to cover the press. Readers of this volatile land are owed an apology. But what can you do? The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 6-1 that the Media Law approved by Congress 2009 was constitutional, settling a bitter battle between the national government and the media group Clarín, which had taken to court its refusal to divest. The decision came on the heels of Sunday’s midterm election vote in which the ruling Victory Front was defeated in all of the country’s major districts: BA City, Buenos Aires province (the nation’s largest voting territory), Santa Fe and Córdoba. But the election packed little surprise because the Victory Front had also bitten the dust in similar fashion in the August 11 PASO primaries.
Sunday’s vote felt as dull as a television rerun. There were subtle differences. The Victory Front, for instance, improved its performance in Córdoba province. Yet it was still defeated by a wide margin in Buenos Aires province where Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa (a former Kirchnerite Cabinet chief now at odds with the national government and running as a rebel Peronist) defeated the Victory Front’s top Lower House candidate Martín Insaurralde by over 11 points.
Massa scored a massive win. In electoral terms, he massacred the Victory Front in the nation’s most important district, which was supposed to be a Kirchnerite bastion. Massa improved his August performance (hey, everybody loves a winner) and even thumped the Victory Front in most of the third electoral section of Greater Buenos Aires. The Tigre mayor was even close to winning in La Matanza, the sprawling Greater Buenos Aires district that is often referred to as the “capital of Peronism.”
The Peronist party, formally headed by Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli and loyal to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, currently belongs to the Victory Front. Fernández de Kirchner was away for most of the midterm campaign after undergoing head surgery on October 8 to drain an hematoma. Doctors have ordered the president to rest for 30 days and she will not be back on official business before November 8. A medical report issued on Friday said that she is recovering well. She should be back at the office before the end of the month.
The ruling coalition’s campaign, with the president resting, was headed by Scioli and Insaurralde, who chose to shift the strategy by shunning the militant rhetoric favoured by CFK during the primary campaign.
The Victory Front’s campaign managed by Scioli and Insaurralde was more personal. Insaurralde’s performance improved slightly. But Massa once again won the day by an even bigger margin than in August. On Sunday Massa defeated Insaurralde 43.92 percent (16 Lower House seats) to 32.18 percent (12 Lower House seats).
Fernández de Kirchner, on the night of August 11, personally faced the music after the defeat in those key districts.
Yet the Victory Front now argues that it is still the most voted-for party nationwide because the wins by the opposition in the main districts were clinched by five distinct regional leaders: Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri, Massa in Buenos Aires province, Governor Juan Manuel de la Sota (a dissident Peronist) in Córdoba and the Socialist party leader Hermes Binner in Santa Fe. Potentially, although De la Sota’s candidates’ win in Córdoba was not that impressive, all four opposition leaders are now potential presidential candidates. Julio Cobos, CFK’s former vice-president, who won in Mendoza running for the Radical party is also a potential presidential hopeful.
Scioli looked worried on Sunday night. And worried he should be because a close look at the results in Greater Buenos Aires should send a chill down the spine of the ruling coalition.
Massa’s win was huge in northern Greater Buenos Aires, where he has his base in Tigre. The Victory Front only managed to hold its ground in four Greater Buenos Aires districts: La Matanza, Lomas de Zamora (where Insaurralde is the mayor), Florencio Varela and Berazategui. The symbolic effect of losing in La Matanza and Lomas de Zamora would have been devastating for Scioli and Insaurralde. But the defeat in Greater Buenos Aires was bad enough.
Yet look again. Massa and Macri were celebrating on Sunday night. Macri’s PRO party won the senatorial and Lower House elections in Buenos Aires City. Macri’s top candidate to the Lower House, Sergio Bergman, faced a strong challenge from Elisa Carrió of the centrist coalition UNEN in BA City. UNEN’s senatorial candidate, Fernando Solanas, won the minority Senate seat here. That result was another defeat for the Victory Front, which had hoped that outgoing Senator Daniel Filmus would be re-elected to the Upper House for the Kirchnerites. But Carrió’s strong performance in the race for the Lower House ultimately favoured Solanas, who defeated Filmus in the battle for that coveted minority Senate seat. PRO won the Senate race in Buenos Aires City impressively with both Gabriela Michetti and Diego Santilli bagging seats.
Macri’s camp has won election after election recently in Buenos Aires City. Macri headed PRO celebrations on Sunday night. On that very night he announced that he will run for president in 2015. Technically, Macri and Massa had a standing agreement in Buenos Aires province where PRO fielded no separate candidates. Instead ,Massa agreed to include three PRO candidates on his Renewal Front ticket. But,after Macri’s announcement, it’s increasingly evident that PRO’s the deal with Massa was designed only to prevent a Victory Front win in Buenos Aires province, which could have opened the way for a bid to reform the Constitution to allow Fernández de Kirchner to run for a third consecutive term in office.
Macri and Massa are now potential rivals in the presidential race of 2015, meaning that they will divide the votes in Buenos Aires province.
Massa himself obviously had reason to celebrate at his base in Tigre. He did not make any direct reference to the presidential race of 2015. But he vowed to embark on a tour of Argentina, implying that he will not run for governor in Buenos Aires province in 2015. There was every reason to think that Massa would savour his impressive victory until the end of this year. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued its Media Law ruling, inflicting a symbolic defeat for Grupo Clarín that has portrayed the national government as wanting to gag the independent press.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti on Wednesday said that the ruling is not the end of the road for the Media Law conflict. Presumably Clarín can now also contest the disinvestment process that will be managed by AFSCA media watchdog head Martín Sabbatella, a staunch CFK loyalist.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling that AFSCA’s political independence must be assured. Sabbatella has declared that the deadline for Clarín to voluntarily submit a disinvestment plan has expired. But Sabbatella also left a door open for such a plan because Fintech, a minority shareholder in the Clarín group cable television company Cablevision, did submit a disinvestment schedule in December.
Sabbatella and other AFSCA officials went to the Clarín group headquarters on Thursday to formally deliver notice to the conglomerate’s lawyers that the media watchdog is moving ahead de facto with the disinvestment plan. Sabbatella has estimated that the process could take no less than six months and no more than a year.
Clarín argues that the one year period to present a plan was effectively frozen by the court injunctions in place while the judges considered its claim that the law is unconstitutional. The media group might have a point. But that will not make Fernández de Kirchner’s symbolic victory go away or look any different at a time her popularity, possibly due to her illness, is increasing.
Carrió has alleged that the Supreme Court ruling is the product of a “pact” between Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti and the president.
According to Carrió, the Supreme Court’s chief justice was forced to negotiate with the government to halt a reform of the justice system that effectively shifted its administrative and financial control to the Magistrates Council.
Lorenzetti has denied such a pact. The Supreme Court had in the past ruled against the government’s sweeping reform of the court system. Last week the Supreme Court also ruled against a decision by the top court in Santiago del Estero province that would have allowed the pro-Kirchnerite Governor Gerardo Zamora to seek a third consecutive term in office.
The president is reportedly reading newspapers again and has been told about the election result and the Supreme Court ruling. Fernández de Kirchner reportedly ordered the Victory Front celebration on Sunday night headed by the acting president Amado Boudou even when it is arguable there was anything to celebrate.
The Victory Front highlighted the wins in Entre Ríos by Governor Sergio Urribarri and Chaco by Governor Jorge Capitanich. Both Urribarri and Capitanich are considered potential Cabinet ministers and eventually even Kirchnerite presidential candidates in 2015. Scioli has also declared in the past that he will seek the Victory Front’s presidential nomination if the Constitution is not reformed to allow for CFK’s re-election. It looks like a Victory Front presidential primary will be inevitable in 2015 whether the outgoing president likes it or not.
The Victory Front garnered 33.15 percent of the votes (7.487.839 votes) nationwide on Sunday in the Lower House election, followed by the Radical Civic Union/Socialists & allies with 21.38 percent (4.829.679 votes), and Massa’s Renewal Front and allies with 17.3 percent (3.847.716 votes).
The real news is that the president’s Victory Front, after its disappointing showing in the big districts at least, is still in control of Congress. Effectively this means that the CFK administration has bought itself time to execute the Media Law, reshuffle the Cabinet and approve any bill that it sees fit from here and until the presidential showdown in 2015.