MANAGUA (Reuters) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party will seek to change the constitution by year-end to remove presidential term limits, lawmakers said yesterday. From Bolivia to Ecuador, a string of Latin American leaders has managed to change rules in recent years to allow them to remain in power beyond traditional term limits.
Ortega has not said publicly whether he would like another term as president, but such a reform would allow him to follow in the footsteps of his ideological ally, late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who called a referendum in 2009 to change Venezuela’s constitution to allow indefinite reelection.
Nicaragua’s law has included a two-term limit, but that was overridden by a Supreme Court ruling that allowed Ortega to run again in 2011.
The 63-strong bench of lawmakers from President Daniel Ortega’s party presented a reform proposal to the national assembly on Friday and have just over the two-thirds majority necessary in the 92-person body needed to pass it.
“It is the people of Nicaragua who should decide who the president will be and whether or not there should be re-election,” said ruling party lawmaker Alba Palacios, who will head the commission that studies the reform proposal.
The reform would also get rid of the minimum simple majority needed to win a presidential election.
The national assembly is set to meet tomorrow to discuss the proposal and has until the end of December to vote on it, lawmakers said. The next presidential vote in Nicaragua is due in late 2016. Left-leaning Ortega first took power after Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution and was formally elected president in 1984. After his Sandinista party lost power in 1990, the opposition banned re-election with a clause in the 1995 constitution.
He returned to power in 2007 and won re-election in 2011 after the Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking restrictions on a president running for a consecutive term, following a petition he and a group of mayors made.
The issue of presidential reelection triggered a deep political and constitutional crisis in neighboring Honduras in 2009, when then-President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup. Zelaya’s presidency came to a premature end that year when he proposed a referendum to amend the constitution, a move interpreted by opponents as a bid to seek a second term.
The Supreme Court ordered his ouster, and Congress endorsed the ruling, accusing him of violating the constitution.