San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

In Nicaragua, Sandinista magistrates accused of coup against constitution

In a Sandinista power play that´s being likened to a coup against Nicaragua´s institutional democracy, high court magistrates loyal to President Daniel Ortega ruled Monday evening against a constitutional ban that prohibits consecutive reelection. The decision by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, according to Sandinista magistrates, clears the way for Ortega to seek reelection in 2011.

The high court´s ruling, made in the absence of opposition judges who reportedly were not convoked for the court session, is being called a brazen assault on Nicaragua´s rule of law, and a dangerous step closer to an Ortega dictatorship.

“They are manipulating the constitution and the state of law in an unthinkable way,” former Supreme Court President Alejandro Serrano told The Nica Times, adding that the Supreme Court does not have the authority to declare the constitution unconstitutional.

Unable to obtain the 57 votes needed to reform the constitution to allow for his reelection in 2011, President Ortega and 109 mayors belonging to his Sandinista Front party filed a motion of unconstitutionality Monday before the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court. In a matter of hours, the Sandinista magistrates ruled in Ortega´s favor.

The Constitutional Chamber´s ruling will now go before the full Supreme Court, where the Sandinistas have a majority, for a final decision.

Opposition politicians, constitutional lawyers and civil society groups have all come out against the Sandinista ruling, while it has been applauded by Ortega supporters and the countries of the Venezuelan-backed Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), a leftist bloc criticized for allegedly dragging Honduras into crisis with a similar reform agenda last June.

Leaders of Nicaragua´s private sector warn the court decision could kill any semblance of judicial security that Nicaragua has had, destroying the investment and business climate in the process.

Opposition leaders met Tuesday to try to coordinate a response to the crisis and a plan to stop Ortega´s drive for reelection.

“If we allow Ortega to get away with this, there is no going back,” stressed Enrique Saenz, leader of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

Read the Oct. 23 Nica Times for more on this story.

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