Representatives from most non-Kirchnerite political parties in the Lower House’s Committee of Constitutional Affairs reached an agreement yesterday to remove former Planning Minister and current deputy Julio De Vido from his seat in what could set up a dangerous institutional precedent for many, considering how many politicians in Argentina have been entangled in legal problems in the past.

The initiative to unseat the former minister was spearheaded by Cambiemos co-founder and deputy Elisa “Lilita” Carrió, who accused De Vido of “indignity” and brought up the more than 100 cases in which he has been accused of wrongdoing and the five indictments he already has on his record.

While he is certainly in trouble, the former Néstor Kirchner confidante will be given the opportunity to defend himself before the Committee in the next seven days. However, all signs point to this being nothing but a mere formality, as all camps involved seem to have already made up their minds about him.

However, besides debating about the case in particular, deputies across the spectrum drew attention to the underlying issue that such a motion brings to the limelight: De Vido’s dignity aside, his unseating can set a perhaps dangerous institutional precedent, taking into account the fact that being a politician in Argentina and having charges pressed against them practically go hand in hand.

This generated different reactions from lawmakers present at the session, such as Victory Front (FpV) deputy Diana Conti, who said that “it’s easy to create a scapegoat and exclude De Vido while the rest believe that they are all good and honest people and in fact they are disgusting.”

The ultra-Kirchnerite lawmaker, a staunch defender of all members of her party, went on to say that it’s “particularly disgusting how we throw ‘indignities’ to each others faces, making politics lose its prestige. Him who is without sin should cast the first stone.”

In contrast, Frente Progresista deputy Margarita Stolbizer warned that the Upper House could follow the steps of its lower counterpart and eventually oppose former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from taking a seat in the Senate, should she be elected to occupy one in the upcoming midterm elections. The former president has three indictments and several other high-profile accusations against her in her record.

To back up her claims, Stolbizer used Fernández’s own words against her. She read a passage of a speech the former President gave in 2001, when she opposed Raúl ‘Tato’ Romero Ferris from taking a seat in the Upper house — of which she was a member at the time — arguing he had 16 indictments and two sentences against him.

“To take in a citizen with multiple indictments, all of them a result of the exercise of a public office, would bring a scandal that would be difficult to overcome and could inflict a deadly wound on the possibilities of reconciliation between this institution and society,” she warned back then.

It’s important to notice though, that there is a big difference between the case brought up by Stolbizer and the one that De Vido is facing: Neither Fernández nor De Vido have been found guilty of the crimes they were accused of. Yes, the judges investigating the accusations in which they have been indicted believe there is enough evidence to reach that conclusion. But it’s a criminal court — or an appeals court, should it get to that — who has the last word in cases of the kind. And at the end of the day, the Argentine criminal system establishes that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. So banning an elected official from taking their seat in Congress only because they are facing criminal charges could set up a dangerous institutional precedent.

A whole different case, for example, would be the one of another former President: Carlos Menem. He does have numerous sentences against him but at the age of 86, he clings to his seat in the Senate — and the immunity it provides — with tooth and nail.

Menem. Photo via Cronista
Menem. Photo via Cronista

Taking this argument into account, the head of the Cambiemos caucus in the Lower House, Mario Negri, said that De Vido’s is an “exceptional case.” “We won’t be throwing a colleague out the window every day,” he said.

The motion is set to be voted next Tuesday by the committee and will be sent to the floor the following day, where it will be necessary for two thirds of the deputies present in the session to vote in its favor for De Vido to effectively stop being one of their peers.

The scenario on the Lower House floor there is a bit more complex than the one in the committee, considering that if the FpV caucus brings all of its lawmakers to the session — like it seems it will —  the government and its allies will need at least 144 votes to reach their goal.

Cambiemos has 86 deputies, counting the ones who are not officially part of the coalition but always vote along its lines. 36 more answer to the Frente Renovador’s Sergio Massa, meaning that at least 22 other deputies need to support the motion to unseat De Vido.

The Justicialist caucus (PJ) led by Diego Bossio will be key to reach the number. And if this ends up happening and De Vido is unseated, we are likely to see a whole other debate begin.