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Opposition Unity Put to Test as National Assembly Reconvenes

MANAGUA – After a month-long recess, the National Assembly returned to work this week to open a new legislative session that could – in the next four months – determine the fate of Daniel Ortega’s aspirations to get himself reelected president next year.

While the ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN) makes a last-ditch effort to cobble together the 56 votes it needs to reform the constitution to lift the ban on consecutive presidential reelection, the divided and multi-headed opposition will try to organize itself enough to make some semblance of a goal-line stand against the Sandinistas’ final push for presidential reelection next year.

The balance of power in the National Assembly has shifted slightly since lawmakers broke for recess in July.

Former contra and outspoken Ortega critic Enrique Quiñónez, a supporter of opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre and formerly a member of the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), has joined the ideologically opaque Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). The minority party, which has seven vitally important swing votes in congress, claims to be in opposition to the government, yet usually votes lockstep with the Sandinistas on the issues that matter most to the ruling party.

Quiñónez’ switch to the ALN – a voting bloc he is now expected to lead – has been met with wild speculation. Some claim Quiñónez has had a falling out with Montealegre, while others claim he’s been bought by the FSLN.

Quiñónez, however, denies both claims. He told The Nica Times that he is still in opposition to the FSLN and still supports Montealegre’s 2011 presidential aspirations. He said he is going to try to “influence the party in a positive way as an opposition voting bloc.”

Luis Humberto Guzman, a political analyst and former president of the National Assembly, said he’s not convinced Quiñónez will have a decisive impact on the congressional balance of power. But his switch to the ALN is not going to make it easier for the Sandinistas, either.

“Ortega is not any closer to having the 56 votes today than he was before the break,” Guzman said.

The analyst said the central issue for the Sandinistas in the next couple of months will be electing – or trying to reelect – magistrates to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) who will accept Ortega’s candidacy next year. Ortega wants to keep the same electoral magistrates in place, while the opposition has said none of the electoral authorities – accused of massive vote rigging on Ortega’s behalf in the 2008 municipal elections – will be reelected.

Overturning Ortega’s Decree

The opposition’s first move in the new legislative session will be to try to overturn Ortega’s controversial presidential decree 3-2010, which extended the terms of office of 25 top judges and magistrates in the Supreme Court, CSE, Comptroller General’s Office and several other government institutions.

Opponents claim the presidential decree, which has led to a de facto situation in two of the four branches of government, is illegal. They blame the decree for the crisis and paralysis in Nicaragua’s government.

Ramón González, head of the 21-member PLC voting bloc, said he hopes the ALN will support the bill to overturn Ortega’s decree. He said it will be Quiñónez’ first test of loyalties as a new political operator with the ALN.

“I hope things change in favor of democracy, but I doubt it,” González told The Nica Times this week. “The ALN has been characterized as a party that is not honorable and can’t be held to its word. I hope the influence of Enrique Quiñónez is for the better.”

The ALN has said several times in past months that they support the bill to overturn the decree.

But whenever the issue has come up for a vote, the ALN directorate members have either been absent or abstained, allowing the Sandinistas to block the measure.

The opposition insists the ALN’s tiresome legislative ploys are further proof that the minority party is in bed with the Sandinistas.

However, with Quiñónez at the party’s helm, there is now some – albeit guarded –hope that he can corral the party back into the opposition camp.

“It’s time to demonstrate clearly who the democrats are in this country – those who want peace and tranquility in Nicaragua,” González said. “I hope that in the next few weeks, we can overturn presidential decree 3-2010.”

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