A Dirty Road for Democracy

Using the faulty democratic framework of We the People, Nicaragua’s newly passed constitution may have ingrained into law a lifetime of Daniel Ortega presidency.

It was with a slam of the door that twenty-five Nicaraguan opposition lawmakers heatedly abandoned the National Assembly after President Ortega’s reforms passed in the hands of the Sandinista supermajority.

With 64 in favor and 25 against, Ortega’s bill glided into law in the second round of voting, sealing an indefinite number of presidential reelections as of January 29.

Image courtesy of Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, © 2008, rights reserved.  Pictured: President Ortega of Nicaragua
Image courtesy of Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, © 2008, rights reserved.
Pictured: President Ortega of Nicaragua

“Ortega’s reforms came from his belief that the prior constitution was ‘unconstitutional,’” said Jessica Bolaños, International Volunteer Coordinator of Bridges to Community in Masaya, Nicaragua.

The opposition lawmakers from the minority Independent Liberal Party Alliance (BAPLI) walked out in protest of the constitution’s pummeling of democratic ideals and the stiffening of Ortega’s grip on the nation’s future.

The final round of the Sandinista’s constitutional reforms were deemed as the most radical to come. Embedded in its statues were claims to advance national security, defend Nicaraguan sovereignty, and promote family life.  Ortega adherents labeled the reforms as “unique” after allegedly consulting with an assorted group of the Nicaraguan population on its policies.

But these claims fall short.  Short in that a diverse populace could be addressed in a scanty two-week period, in that strong involvement of Sandinista-run institutions did not skew the campaign, and in that any public outreach took place altogether.

Despite brash opposition from minority parties, the Nicaragua-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic Development (FUNIDES), independently run media and civil society organizations, the bill passed without a glitch.

The U.S. State Department also addressed the constitution’s blatant violation of checks and balances.  “We are concerned that steps that concentrate power will be harmful to democracy and could hurt the long-term economic development so important to the Nicaraguan people.”

Still, President Ortega received 70% of the popular vote, challenging notions that the people are discontent with the political situation.  “The concept of ‘no presidential term limit’ seems pretty daunting, but it is still reliant upon the vote of the people,” said William and Mary student Caroline McGregor, former Nicaraguan resident of eight years.  “The elections will continue every five years as normal, with the exception that the same person can be elected over and over again.”

It all boils down to the “pacto” politics. Characterized by the period of private negotiations between the president and COSEP—the most powerful Nicaraguan business chamber—the future of Nicaragua lies in the hands of a political and economic alliance.  It is only because of this alliance that the country cannot be formally termed a monarchy.

“The new constitution approved the building of the canal in Nicaragua, which is a huge step,” said McGregor.  “It will take a while, but the possible economic prosperity it could bring to the country could mirror that of the Panama Canal.”

We The People in the Ortega constitution serves not to heal the abrasions of illiteracy and poverty, but to instead impress the Sandinista seal of power for termless years.  What is gained in a loss of democratic voting, in the self-perpetuating cycle of power that the Somoza dynasty once inflicted, and now the boundless Ortega wishes to echo?

Perhaps a cleaner road for business transactions, but a much dirtier one for democracy.

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