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ARGENTINA | 18-08-2020 23:15

Following rally, opposition calls on Fernández to drop justice reform

Seeking to build on the momentum of 17A anti-government rally, Juntos por el Cambio calls on government to withdraw its judicial reform bill.

Seeking to build on the momentum of the '17A' anti-government rally, opposition leaders on Tuesday called on President Alberto Fernández to drop his controversial justice reform bill.

A day after large anti-government protests nationwide, the Juntos por el Cambio bloc said in a letter sent to the Peronist leader on Tuesday declaring that his Peronist government should focus more on resolving the coronavirus pandemic and deep economic crisis, rather than rush through a reform of the justice system that lacks political consensus.

Thousands in Argentine cities rallied on Monday against extended lockdown measures, economic hardship and planned judicial reforms. Many opposition lawmakers have described the judicial reform bill as a thinly veiled attempt to ensure Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's legal woes are swept away. The former president faces a string of corruption cases against her in the courts,

According to the leaders of Juntos por el Cambio, the bill “doesn’t accurately contribute to the climate of unity between Argentines, which you have repeatedly stated Mr. President and we share,” the opposition coalition wrote. “Today the priority is finding a way out of the economic and social crisis after the pandemic.”

Maintaining that there are no conditions for a debate on the Judiciary's future in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, the centre-right coalition asserted that "any change in the functioning of the institutions, especially if it is concerns justice, requires a broad consensus among political parties, the sectors directly interested, social organisations and academic circles."

To do otherwise would fail to give the reforms "the necessary legitimacy to last over time, and away from suspicions and suspicions of grim interests," added the letter signed by the leaders of the parties in Juntos por el Cambio, the successor of the coalition that governed during the administration led by former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019).

The proposal would nearly double the number of federal judges in Argentina’s provinces, where many Peronist political leaders govern. The reform would also water down the power of one of the Comodoro Py federal courthouse, while some have theorised it will also lead to an expansion of the Supreme Court.

Even though the fine print of the reform has yet to be presented, that didn’t stop protesters on Monday, who took to the streets from Buenos Aires to beach towns in the biggest anti-government turnout since Fernandez took office December 10. A key issue mentioned by protesters in Monday’s marches was their objection to the judiciary reform, as well as anger against ongoing restrictions imposed to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in Argentina.

Earlier on Tuesday, Argentina's registered its 300,000th confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. More than 6,000 fatalities have been recorded.

Poliical divide

The judicial reform bill, unveiled on July 30 by President Fernández during a speech at the Casa Rosada, arrives at a delicate time. It’s aggravating the country’s political divide just as some opposition leaders are trying to put aside differences to collaborate with the government on its response to Covid-19.

Some key political players did not sign the letter, including Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Macri himselfi, although the former president did tweet out support for the marchers, saying he was "proud of the thousands of Argentines who came out to say enough with fear and abuse, and yes to work, respect and freedom."

Fernández hasn’t publicly commented yet on Monday’s protests. A spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding the coalition letter, signed by several leaders, including Patricia Bullrich, a former security minister and current president of opposition party PRO.

Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, slammed the opposition, including Macri, for supporting the protest. The former president “can’t deny the irresponsibility that it means to promote and encourage a march in the middle of a pandemic,” the govenrment official tweeted on Tuesday.

The Frente de Todos leader says the reform bill will  "guarantee due process, expedite trials, and make justice independent from political power." But any move to get the bill through Congress will be a tough battle. The ruling party has its own quorum in the Senate, but not in the lower house Chamber of Deputies, while the opposition says it will refuse to debate the bill in virtual sessions.

– TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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by Patrick Gillespie, Bloomberg

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