Nicaragua: Assembly passes Constitution reform

On Jan. 28 Nicaragua's unicameral National Assembly voted 64-25 with no abstentions to approve a reform package changing 46 of the 202 articles in the country's 1987 Constitution; only three of the Assembly's 92 legislative deputies were absent. The 63 deputies from the governing center-left Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) all voted for the changes. They were joined by Wilfredo Navarro of the right-wing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); the other opposition deputies all voted against the reform, and many walked out afterwards in protest. The amendments were initially approved on Dec. 10 but required a second vote to become official.

The constitutional reform removes restrictions limiting presidents to a total of two terms and preventing a president from holding office for two consecutive terms. The deputies also eliminated the requirement that the winner of a presidential election have 35% or more of the popular vote; now the presidency will go to whichever candidate has the highest number of votes, and there will be no possibility of a second round. Another major change concerns the role of the military: the army will now have responsibility for regulating the radio and telecommunication spectrum, and officers will be able to hold government posts without having to retire from the military. Opponents noted that the reform package strengthens the position of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, who was in office from 1985 to 1990 and from 2007 to 2012; he is now serving a third term which is also his second consecutive term. With the reform in place, there will be no legal limitations to his seeking further terms. (Nicaragua News Bulletin, Dec. 10; La Prensa, Nicaragua, Jan. 28, from AP; BBC News, Jan. 29)

Some 54% of Nicaraguans of voting age approve the reform "somewhat" or "very much," according to a survey of 1,200 citizens carried out by the CID-Gallup polling company Jan. 10-16; 39% were opposed, according to the poll, and 7% didn't know or didn't answer. President Ortega's approval rating was 48%, up from 42% in September, while 52% expressed a preference for the FSLN; 40% of those surveyed said they didn't favor any of the political parties. Despite the support for Ortega and the FSLN, only a little more than a third of the respondents believed that the president would leave the country better off than he found it, while 40% thought he wouldn't bring about a major advance. (El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua, Jan. 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 2.