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Sandinistas Seeking Constitutional Reform in Nicaragua

By: Mabel Velástegui - Nov 7, 2013, 10:02 am

EspañolIn 2009, while he was finishing his second nonconsecutive presidential term (the first took place between 1985 and 1990), Nicaragua’s President, Daniel Ortega, tried to modify the Constitution to open the way for an additional term. Lacking support in the National Assembly, he had the Supreme Court enable that for him.

Nowadays, the context in Nicaragua has changed. The ruling party, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), has 62 of the 92 seats in the National Assembly. Ortega wants to eliminate any obstacle to his continuation in office, and so on Friday his party presented a proposal to amend the Constitution.

The proposal, which would affect 39 articles, will be presented in the Assembly and then a Special Constitutional Commission will evaluate its legal coherence. As the law states, the Commission must determine within 60 days whether the proposed reform is viable. Then, the proposal must be discussed in two consecutive Congresses, and for its final approval it requires 60 percent of deputies to vote in favor. That is at least 56, a number Sandinismo already reaches.

A change to Article 147 — election of the president and the vice president of Nicaragua — constitutes the primary amendment. The modification cancels the phrases that limit the presidential reelection in two cases:

  • The president cannot be elected if he or she is in office during the election, thus, cannot be elected for his or her immediate after period.
  • A person who has been president for two terms cannot be elected for a third one.

Another important modification regarding the presidential election refers to the percentage of votes needed to win the presidency. The project eliminates the current minimum of 35 percent, and just the greatest share of votes will be necessary. Furthermore, Article 150 allows the president to pass administrative decrees, with the same validity as laws.

The Sandinista leader first won the presidency of Nicaragua in 1985. Before that he was part of the Junta Provisional de Reconstrucción Nacional (Provisional Assembly for National Reconstruction), after overthrowing dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. After that first term, Ortega ran in the elections of 1990, 1996, and 2001, but with no success. Finally, in 2006 he won the presidency again and, as stated before, obtained a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 to be elected for a third term.

Given his history, this constitutional reform looks to be his only way to run in the elections for a fourth time.

With this proposal, the president of Nicaragua could also be seeking military support. Article 95 would allow members of national army to occupy public, but unelected positions, “when it would be necessary for the supreme interest of the nation.”

Alberto Lacayo, member of the opposition party, the Bancada Democrática Nicaragüense (BDN), believes that the proposed amendments demonstrate principles contrary to those established in Nicaragua after Somoza’s overthrowing.

“Nicaraguans fought for not having a dynastic, corrupt family in power, for not being governed by military forces. We fought for public liberties, for not having a permanent president,” he said.

Wilfredo Navarro, a deputy from the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC), considers that it is necessary to “adjust the Constitution to current times.” More specifically, he says, “it is a priority to include in the Constitution new territorial borders of Nicaragua and gender equality.”

The proposal would also establish sanctions for those deputies who decide to change political party after elections. They would lose their seats. It also includes the word “socialist” in the underlying principles of the nation. According to the text, “Socialist ideals promote common good and not individual egoism, with the aim of constructing a society that is more inclusive, fair, and equal.”

In Latin America, constitutional reforms occur to allow reelection of presidents, and these reforms seem to be evermore frequent. Rafael Correa of Ecuador, for example, has already reached his third term. In Venezuela, the Constitution allows reelection without any restriction. In Bolivia, the Constitution was amended in 2009 and, although it permits just a second presidential term, this year the Constitutional Court of this country allowed president Evo Morales to run in 2014 elections for a third presidential term.

Following the lead of others, now the Nicaraguan leader is the one preparing a legal strategy to allow himself perpetuity in power.

Mabel Velástegui Mabel Velástegui

Reporter for the PanAm Post, based in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Follow her on Twitter @mabelvelastegui.