Argentine Urges Political Reform
Duhalde Tries to Mollify Protesters Amid Economic Crisis
By Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writer
BUENOS AIRES, Feb. 8 -- In a bid to co-opt the mass protests by Argentines
outraged over politicians' mismanagement of the economy, President Eduardo
Duhalde tonight sought to rally the nation behind a plan to change the political system in a host of ways, including a possible shift to a parliamentary form of
Speaking on national television, Duhalde said he empathized with the
fury toward the "political class" that has swept Argentina in the past
two months as the economy
has begun to implode since the government defaulted on its $142 billion debt and devalued the peso.
"We have to go back to the authentic values of our society: commitment
and honor," Duhalde said, "and we have to put an end to the decadence that
Argentina needs "a second republic" and "profound" changes to its constitution,
Duhalde said. He said the nation should consider switching to a parliamentary
from the current presidential system in which the executive branch is separate from the Congress. He also vowed to press for a 25 percent reduction in the number of
elected legislators at the federal, provincial and local levels; the elimination of slush funds controlled by government ministries; and a limit of 30 days on political
The odds that Argentines will be assuaged by Duhalde's call for political
change, however, do not appear promising. Most of the proposals he set
forth in his speech
had been made public or leaked to the media in recent days, and even as he spoke, pot-banging protesters were mobilizing for nationwide demonstrations.
"Thieves, you are robbing our future," read one sign at a protest here
of several thousand people. One woman, who gave her name only as Christina,
said, "I wasn't
convinced by anything he [Duhalde] said."
Similar protests occur daily as Argentines vent their frustration about
the disastrous turn in the country's economic fortunes that have wiped
out thousands of jobs and
threaten to deprive millions of middle-class Argentines of much of their savings.
"There's a substantive side to constitutional reform, but there's another
side to this that might be called a publicity stunt, or a form of diverting
attention," said Carlos
Escude, a political scientist at Torcuato Di Tella University. "Leaving aside the fact that most people do feel we need constitutional reform, I doubt if people will go
out and cheer considering the fact that the people who will be reforming the constitution are the very politicians who have lost all credibility."
One reform backed by many political experts would involve scrapping
the electoral system for legislators, which makes them beholden to party
unaccountable to voters. Instead of being elected to represent single districts, they run on party slates and win seats depending on the number of votes their party
wins in each province.
Duhalde hinted that he would seek to change this system somewhat, by giving independent candidates the opportunity to run.
Special correspondent Brian Byrnes contributed to this report.