San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sandinistas Revive 1987 Constitution to Justify ‘Legality’ of Controversial Decree

In what’s being called a “desperate attempt” by the Sandinista Front to justify President Daniel Ortega’s controversial decree to extend term limits for 25 top officials, Sandinista legislative leader Rene Núñez this week said he discovered an old law on the books that allows magistrates to remain at their posts even after their term limits expire (see separate story, page N2).

Dusting off the old 1987 constitution (which was reformed in 1995), Núñez pointed to Law 201, which says magistrates of the Supreme Court, Supreme Electoral Council, Controller General’s Office and other institutions can remain in office until the National Assembly appoints new authorities. The Sandinistas claim Núñez’s discovery gives further legitimacy to Ortega’s controversial decree in January, which essentially says the same thing.

The opposition, however, says both are invalid. Ortega’s decree, legal analysts claim, was a clear violation of separation of powers by usurping authority given to the legislative branch (NT Jan. 15). And the law that Núñez allegedly “discovered” this week was a temporary measure that expired 20 years ago, according to constitutional analysts.

Lawyer Carlos Tünnermann said the Sandinistas’ argument is “absolutely absurd” and just shows “the desperation of Ortega and those around him to perpetuate themselves in power.”

Ortega, who wields enormous control over the electoral and judicial branches of government, wants to keep his “dream team” together heading into the 2011 presidential elections, even though many of the magistrates’ terms expire this year.

But the wheels started to fall off Ortega’s plan when opposition magistrates in the Comptroller General’s Office and Supreme Electoral Commission failed to recognize the legality of the presidential decree extending their terms. Several have already left their jobs, leaving the posts vacant.

With the National Assembly gridlocked and unable to elect new magistrates, the Sandinistas had to turn back the clock to 1987 to find a previous law that justifies the continuance of officials whose time is up.

“The Sandinistas have no legal arguments,” said former Supreme Court president Alejandro Serrano. “This government is no longer legal or legitimate.”

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