Nicaraguan committee passes change to remove presidential term limits

MANAGUA,  (Reuters) – A Nicaraguan parliamentary committee on Thursday approved a constitutional change to remove presidential term limits, which could allow incumbent Daniel Ortega stay in power for years and has raised concerns about democracy in the country.

The plan put forward this month by Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front was passed by the four Sandinista members of the seven-strong committee, paving the way for a full vote on the package of changes in December.

The 68-year-old Ortega, a prominent Cold War antagonist of the United States, has yet to say publicly whether he wants to run again for the presidency in 2016.

But the move looks likely to make the impoverished Central American country the latest in a string of Latin American nations from Bolivia to Ecuador to give presidents power extending beyond their traditional limits.

The Sandinistas hold 63 of the 92 seats in Nicaragua’s National Assembly, giving the party the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution in a vote due by Dec. 15.

Alba Palacios, a Sandinista member of the assembly, said the package originally containing 39 changes had been broadened to include 42, though she did not give details of the new ones.

Last week the U.S. government criticized the proposal, saying it could undermine democracy in Nicaragua and hurt the country’s economic development. Opposition politicians in Nicaragua have also attacked the plan.

The proposed electoral change also would get rid of the minimum simple majority needed to win presidential elections.

Nicaragua’s law had set a two-term limit for presidents but that was overridden by a controversial Supreme Court ruling that allowed Ortega to run for office again in 2011.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla and ally of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has been president since 2007. He first took power after Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution and was formally elected president for a single term in 1984.

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