President Nestor Kirchner received a bashing and Argentina's cyclical faith in democracy and republican institutions an impressive boost from one of the most under developed and forgotten provinces of the country.
In spite of an unprecedented display of coarse proselytism and bullying, and against all public opinion polls' forecasts, Misiones province electorate in the northeast of Argentina overwhelming voted on Sunday against the attempt of the local provincial mandarin, --with Kirchner's support--to enthrone himself in perpetuity by reforming the constitution.
The United Front for Dignity under Bishop Joaquin Piña gained in the polls a leading majority which will prevent a Constitutional assembly from approving Governor Rovira's proposal to "unrestricted re-election", which should have been a test case for other more electoral significant Argentina provinces and which received ample support from the Kirchner administration.
"I warned President Kirchner to take distance; it was not good for him to be so close to Governor Rovira", said Bishop Piña who nevertheless in a conciliatory tone added "Rovira is not the same as the federal government. And this is what President Kirchner maybe didn't catch".
Piña headed the United Front for Dignity with the blessing of the Argentine Catholic Church but his participation was not political but rather in support of "republican institutions" which is beyond politics.
"We had to defend freedom, dignity, democracy and human rights. That was my task and that is all", he said anticipating he will resign as member of the assembly once it's officially convened.
"I will keep on helping my brothers as a priest and bishop; that's my future", said Piña the man who led the peaceful rebellion that defeated the powerful political machine of governor Rovira, Misiones provincial government's resources and the sponsorship of President Kirchner.
According to Argentine political analysts there are several lessons to be learnt: first of all in the future the President has to be more selective as to whom he delivers full support and resources, making sure they are not obsolete bullies in spite of how powerful they might seem; secondly there are no invulnerable politicians, never mind what opinion polls might forecast and thirdly for the Argentine opposition which currently seems inexistent and incapable of reacting to Kirchner's hegemonic project, the Misiones 700.000 electorate has proved it is possible to find rallying points, possibly beginning with institutional issues or agreements on basic principles.
And finally the Argentine Catholic Church proved it can commit a popular bishop to lead the defense of democratic institutions, not to defeat the president, but to remind Mr. Kirchner that his public attacks towards the church, as has happened lately, are an unnecessary ill-timed aggressiveness.
Until late Monday there was no reaction from the Kirchner administration to Sunday's events in remote tropical Misiones.