San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua Slides Toward ‘De Facto’ State as Ortega Eyes Re-election

MANAGUA – Desperate to try to legitimize Daniel Ortega’s counter-constitutional re-election bid before he officially presents his candidacy, the Sandinistas’ de facto Supreme Court ruled last Thursday to overturn the legal provision banning consecutive presidential reelection and ordered the de facto Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to accept Ortega’s 2011 presidential candidacy.

Still unable to get the 56 votes needed in the National Assembly to reform the Constitution and overturn Article 147 – the constitutional provision prohibiting re-election – the Sandinista court on Sept. 30 ratified last year’s controversial resolution by Sandinista magistrates to overturn the ban based on the argument that it violates Ortega’s right to equal treatment under the law.

As an added bonus, the Sandinista court added the Latin phrase “erga omnes,” in this case meaning that everyone can run for reelection, not just their boss.

Legal analysts are calling the latest move by the de facto court a “false ruling by an illegal court,” according to former Supreme Court president Roberto Argüello, who held the post of top judge during the first Sandinista government in the 1980s.

Argüello told The Nica Times Sunday that the ruling was illegal on several counts. First of all, he said, the Supreme Court is presently illegally constituted, being comprised of two ex-magistrates and Sandinista substitute judges who are replacing the opposition magistrates who continue to boycott what he says is the ruling party’s forced takeover of the judicial system.

And secondly, he said, even if the court were legally constituted, it’s not within the Supreme Court’s authority to reform the Constitution. Only the legislative branch can modify the country’s magna carta, he said.

“The court has completely overstepped its bounds,” Argüello said.

He said that the two Sandinista ex-magistrates who continue to usurp seats on the high court should be criminally charged as imposters.

In their push for Ortega’s reelection next year, the Sandinistas have muddled the legal situation to unprecedented levels in recent weeks.

First, they reprinted a new version of the Constitution last month that including an article that expired 20 years ago. The resurrected article says electoral, judicial and other administration officials whose terms in office have already expired can remain in office until replaced by the National Assembly (TT, Daily News, Sept. 24).

Then, using the de facto Constitution as their legal basis, the de facto Supreme Court ruled to uphold Ortega’s controversial presidential decree allowing 25 magistrates and other officials to remain at their posts beyond their term limits.

So, in effect, two ex-magistrates on the Supreme Court were ruling that it is legal for them to keep their jobs and salaries – a brazen conflict of interest that was not lost on the opposition, which blasted the move as illegal.

The Sandinistas have tried to legitimize the move by arguing that their continuance in power is in the best interest of national stability, and claim that similar legislation exists in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru and Spain.

“In Costa Rica, if they don’t have the sufficient votes in the Legislative Assembly to remove or elect a new official, the official continues in his or her post,” said Roberto Larios, spokesman for the Sandinistas’ de facto Supreme Court.

However, pundits note, Nicaragua is not Costa Rica. Nicaragua, it turns out, has its own Constitution. And legal analysts claim it’s being violated repeatedly in order to justify Ortega’s reelection aspirations.

Former Supreme Court President Alejandro Serrano counts five “unconstitutional moves” made by the Sandinistas in the past year to justify Ortega’s reelection and the continuance in power of his government’s officials.

“It’s a snowball where the violations of the constitution are piling up one on top of another, on top of another and on top of another,” Serrano told The Nica Times.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, are refusing to recognize either the newly printed Sandinista version of the Constitution or the resolutions from the Sandinistas’ de facto court.

“With this illegal resolution, Ortega, as commander-in-chief of the Army and National Police, is trying to obligate them to enforce illegal resolutions, generating a de facto state in our country,” said opposition lawmaker Eduardo Montealegre.

Read next Friday’s Nica Times for more on Nicaragua’s de facto state.

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