MANAGUA – President Daniel Ortega is only four votes away from obtaining the 60 percent majority in the National Assembly that he needs to reform the Constitution and legalize his re-election bid next year.
On Sunday, during an extraordinary session that was boycotted by the opposition, Ortega demonstrated that he now controls a 52-vote majority in the National Assembly, just four votes shy of a super majority. The 38 Sandinista lawmakers, accompanied by 14 minority party allies from the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), the Conservative Party (PC) and the Nicaraguan Unity Block (BUN), dutifully voted to approve Ortega’s $70.4 million emergency budget reform in its entirety and without any substantive discussion.
“We are fulfilling our responsibility to the citizens and to the country,” said Sandinista lawmaker José Figueroa.
Both the Sandinistas and their allies criticized the 40 opposition lawmakers who boycotted Sunday’s extraordinary session under the argument that it was convened illegally. The Sandinistas accused the absent opposition lawmakers, who belong to Arnoldo Alemán’s Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), Eduardo Montealegre’s Vamos Con Eduardo political bloc, and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), of putting political interests before those of the nation.
The opposition, however, claims Ortega is trying to manipulate the national emergency caused by the rains to covertly advance his political agenda of control and political domination. And the proof, they say, is in the pudding.
PLC lawmaker Francisco Aguirre,a member of the congressional budget commission, said that less than 15 percent of the “emergency budget reforms” is actually earmarked for emergency spending to respond to damage caused by rain and flooding. The other 85 percent of the budget reform is for “ordinary spending,” including budget increases for the Sandinistas’ de facto Supreme Court and de facto Supreme Electoral Council, both of which opponents claim are operating illegally.
But what most worries the opposition about last Sunday’s vote is that it demonstrates Ortega’s weight in the National Assembly.
Last weekend’s extraordinary session of congress was, according to Aguirre, a “dry run” for Ortega’s final push to reform the Constitution before December. And according to the opposition, the Sandinistas are actively recruiting the four remaining votes – and allegedly are willing to pay big bucks to get them.