Nicaragua: Ortega seeks constitutional reform

Insisting there is no possibility of a coup d'état in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega is pushing forward on a "citizen power" agenda similar to the controversial project that led to the ouster of Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras. Speaking before some 500,000 supporters July 19 at a rally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Ortega called for a constitutional referendum on scrapping presidential term limits.

As part of Ortega's effort to implement what he calls "direct democracy," the populist president says citizens should not face any constitutional restrictions on who they want to lead them. Calling term limits are an example of the "oligarchy's fear of the people," Ortega said: "The right is terrified of the people and the word 'citizen power.' They are afraid of the poor and the farmers, who are the great majority in Nicaragua."

Ortega must make his move now if he hopes to remain in office beyond the 2011 elections. "If we are going to be just and fair, everyone has to have the right to reelection so that the people, with their vote, can award or punish [candidates]—that is the principle that we have to defend," Ortega told the rally. "If Honduras had this referendum, there wouldn't have been conditions for a coup there."

Dismissing the possibility of a coup, Ortega said: "In Nicaragua, the Army and police come from the revolution and would never act against the state of law, against democracy or against the people."

But even veteran Sandinistas are accusing Ortega himself of a dangerous power grab. "Here the coup is being staged by the president against the state of law and the Constitution; Ortega is staging an incremental coup," said Hugo Torres, a retired military general and former Sandinista leader. "It's not a typical coup, it's more subtle." Torres warned that if Ortega is able to achieve his plans for re-election and a constitutional overhaul, it would be the "definitive step" toward establishing a form of "tropical fascism" in Nicaragua. (CSM, July 20)

Opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre responded to Ortega's call for "citizen power" (poder ciudadano) by proposing a an immediate recall referendum, saying the president should step down and new elections should be held ahead of schedule if a majority vote for it. He also demanded international observers, saying no impartial vote count is possible under the current Supreme Electoral Council. (Nuevo Diario, Managua, July 19)

Days earlier, Ortega invoked the possibility of a coup d'etat in Nicaragua

See our last post on Nicaragua.

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