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ARGENTINA | 02-07-2024 16:57

Milei government prepares legislative agenda for 'second stage'

Electoral reform being considered by the Executive branch and a bill could be ready for Congress by August; Ideally, it would include the elimination of the PASO primaries, the move to a single ballot system, the scrapping of gender parity quotas and a lowering of the minimum voting age.

President Javier Milei’s administration has already defined its legislative agenda for the remainder of the year and a next phase of government.

For the administration, the first stage of Milei’s government – symbolised by the delayed passage of his ‘Ley de Bases’ reform bill, the cornerstone and masterpiece of the libertarian political and economic project – is over and a second stage is now beginning. And with it comes a different parliamentary agenda.

From a strictly legislative standpoint, a few bills are already on the horizon. Electoral reform, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and an expansion of the Supreme Court are some of the topics that top the list.

The first draft of the ‘Ley de Bases’ ‘bill, introduced last December, contained over 600 articles, with some dedicated to court changes. It included, among other measures, an obligation for judges to use a black robe and a gavel. 

Several other chapters also proposed ambitious electoral reform, a cause pushed by then-interior minister Guillermo Francos, who is today even more empowered as Milei’s Cabinet chief. Resistance from provincial governments and opposition political parties to debating that topic within the sweeping ‘omnibus’ bill prompted the removal of those articles.

The Executive branch now intends to relaunch its electoral reform push. Steps would include the elimination of the controversial PASO primary elections and the implementation of a single ballot system.

However, several controversial proposals – such as changes regarding constituencies and representation in Congress – will likely be removed.

If changes to the Electoral Code are to be introduced for next year’s midterms, a bill has to be approved by both houses by December. Changes made to the rules in election years cannot be implemented with immediate effect. 

The new electoral reform push, according to rumours in Congress, could begin as early as August.

According to reporting by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, the priorities for the Executive branch are the elimination of the PASOs, the introduction of a single ballot and open lists and the lowering of the voting age to 13, matching the new standard for criminal responsibility that Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Libarona has proposed for minors who commit crimes.


Chau PASO?

The elimination of the PASO primaries and the introduction of a single ballot are subjects that have won a reasonable consensus. Though many lawmakers across party lines support the proposal, the idea has never gained true momentum in Congress.

The PASO primaries were approved in 2009 via Law 26.571 and were first introduced in the 2011 election. However, their scant use by electoral alliances has caused the approach to be questioned from the outset, especially due to the considerable expenditure and logistics entailed.

Many political forces began using them to prepare both local and national candidate lists, both for legislative posts and presidential tickets, the most shining example being Juntos por el Cambio with its 2023 primary in which Patricia Bullrich beat Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

What is still not clear in this electoral reform is whether gender parity quotas, introduced in 2017 under former president Mauricio Macri’s government, will be retained for electoral lists, though the Milei administration has made its position clear on the issue. 

The move to a single ballot system is non-negotiable for the government, which believes that there is enough support for its introduction. It is unclear if the Executive branch favours a paper or electronic vote system.

The novelty is that the single ballot system being considered by the Executive Branch would be supplemented by an open-list system, so that voters may make use of their creativity and combine candidates from different parties or even change the order of candidates. 

President Milei’s proposal to lower the voting age to 13 seems more a fickle slogan than a plausible reality. Opposition leaders have said that they do not agree with voting at such an early age, even if it is conceived as optional and voluntary for those under the age of 18.

The government’s justification for its move relates to the Justice Ministry’s push to lower the age of criminal responsibility – if minors who commit crimes are ready to go to jail from the age of 13, the same standard should be applied to the right to vote, officials argue.

Critics see the move as cynical, noting that young voters are the most likely to support Milei’s ideology and alleging there is an obvious political interest in exploiting that segment of the population for La Libertad Avanza.

The proposal’s ability to prosper, however, seems low. Miguel Ángel Pichetto, the influential head of the Hacemos Coalición Federal caucus in the lower house, has already warned that he is against it and would rather maintain the existing minimum of 16 years of age. 

Another key target for President Milei and his team is an expansion of the number of Supreme Court justices. Previous administrations have favoured such a move and a move to increase the five-member tribunal to one with 15 appointees won preliminary approval in the Senate, only for the bill to be subsequently shelved in the Chamber of Deputies.

Milei’s government not only wants approval for its nominees, Ariel Lijo and Manuel García Mansilla. It also wants to expand the Supreme Court, adding women to the bench and giving the tribunal a more federal face. 

 

– TIMES/NA

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