September 1, 2014
Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa’s proposal for the reformed Penal and Commercial Codes to be submitted to a referendum is totally the wrong approach, reducing a vastly complex body of law to the grotesque simplification of the single question to which referenda are restricted and enshrining the very populism which has plagued Argentina far too long, according to the opposition. Last year’s judicial reform for the popular election of the Council of Magistrates was widely questioned for, among other reasons, setting a precedent for the popular election of judges (a prospect rejected by some voices ideologically not far from the government like Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Za-ffaroni) and even justifying lynch mobs if carried to its logical extreme — entirely counterproductive to the dreams of most legal reformers. Does Massa’s party thus wish to retread a path resisted last year by the opposition and ultimately frustrated by the judiciary? Massa is opening a very wide door indeed with his referendum proposals — there was a time (which now seems long ago) when there were rumours of a third presidential term being put to a plebiscite if constitutional reform proved impossible while today the DAIA Jewish umbrella association is proposing a referendum for the controversial Iran agreement. Massa’s whole conceptual approach is thus wrong, quite apart from specific errors such as claiming that the code reform scraps life imprisonment (when the maximum sentence is currently 30 years).
Neither Massa nor anybody else is obliged to find the Code reforms perfect and he has every right to use his parliamentary seat to voice objections. What he cannot do is to pass the buck straight back to the people — under the rules of representative democracy, he was elected (with a substantial salary) to make laws on behalf of a people generally lacking advanced legal training. And now his party is proposing a Swiss-style direct democracy for a country which is very far from being Switzerland.
Massa thus represents a demagogic style of politics which seems to offer leadership but instead religiously follows the opinion polls, thus handing the solution of problems straight back to the people and perverting democracy into a kind of snake eating its own tail. Argentina is very far from being the only country where democratic politics is degenerating into this kind of immaturity in a process of evolution in reverse but it is an all too common trend which should be resisted wherever it arises.