Alberto Nisman’s case has given rise to two intriguing story lines: the case of his mysterious death on the one hand, and the cover up accusations he made against Cristina on the other. Due to Nisman’s accusations, which came out after his death, many people have been talking about the possibility of Cristina being impeached. Cristina is still very far from that, even though she has now been formally accused by the public prosecutor in the case.
An impeachment is a process whereby the President, Vice President, member of the Executive branch of Supreme Court justices are subjected to trial and, in the case of an adverse ruling, removed from office.
The first thing that we must keep in mind is that this process does not follow the normal legal steps; it is more like a pre-trial that determines whether a full penal trial against these political figures is warranted.
This is because every public official in Argentina (as in almost every Western democracy) has legal protections that are different from those of normal citizens. Privileges that are embedded in the Constitution (articles 68 to 70) and require an impeachment before a regular trial can commence.
So, first things first: Impeachment would be necessary to strip Cristina of her protection, with articles 53, 59 and 60 of the Constitution defining the procedure.
According to law, the Lower House can accuse any of the aforementioned public officials of “bad performance” or a “common crime”, and then it’s up to the Senate to judge and remove the accused. The Senate can also ban them from running for public office again.
In this sense, both the Lower House and the Senate are involved in carrying out impeachment proceedings. Lawmakers can form a Special Impeachment Committee that determines if the accusation is admissible and if there are reasons to charge the accused.
If so, the Senate considers it and proceeds with the possible removal of legal protections.
No Argentine President has ever been subjected to an impeachment procedure. One of the most high profile cases is that of Anibal Ibarra, former mayor of Buenos Aires, who was impeached and removed from office after the República de Cromagnon tragedy.
On the other hand, the United States has done it four times, with Bill Clinton’s sexual scandal in 1999 being the most recent case.
So tread carefully before jumping to conclusions about Cristina’s political future.
What happened today has, as of now, does not suggest an impending impeachment proceeding. What prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita did by accusing her is indicate that he believes he has solid evidence to start a case against her.
Impeachment is a very rare occurrence in Argentina, and we’ll have to see where the case goes before predicting that Cristina will be removed from office before the coming presidential elections.