Nicaragua President Ortega proposes removing constitution's ban on consecutive terms

Nicaraguan lawmakers on Wednesday began studying a proposal by President Daniel Ortega to remove an article in the constitution intended to bar consecutive presidential terms.

The country's highest court already allowed Ortega to be elected to a second, consecutive term, but an analyst said the president probably wants to remove the wording from the charter to solidify that ruling and undercut criticism of his re-election.

National Assembly secretary Alba Palacios said she and six other lawmakers have formed a commission that will study the proposal and then present its opinion to the full assembly by December. It will consult with representatives of the police, army, business community and unions as well as Supreme Court justices, the Roman Catholic Church, law professors and political figures, Palacios said.

The constitution article in question prohibits consecutive presidential terms, but in 2010 the Supreme Court overturned the ban, a ruling the electoral commission said was final. The ruling allowed Ortega to run for president for a second straight term in 2011.

Removing the article from Nicaragua's constitution would open the door to presidents seeking unlimited consecutive terms in office, critics warn.

If approved, "the reform would set a dangerous precedent that could extend the time all elected officials can stay in power," political analyst Danilo Aguirre Solis said.

Gabriel Alvarez, a constitutional law expert, said the proposal would only formalize the Supreme Court's decision, which Ortega's opponents contend was illegal and done by a heavily politicized court.

"It's an unnecessary change because the Supreme Court has already ruled on that, but I think they are doing it so that those who call (Ortega's government) 'illegal', 'spurious, 'de facto' or 'unconstitutional' can no longer label him that way," Alvarez said.

Other Latin American leaders, including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, have maneuvered to extend their terms in office.

Ortega first left the presidency in 1990 after losing an election to Violeta Chamorro. He was re-elected in 2006, then won again in 2011 after the Supreme Court allowed him to run.

Ortega's proposal also seeks to eliminate the required minimum of 35 percent of the votes a candidate needs to win a presidential election. He proposes that the candidate with the most votes should win, as long as the total is at least 5 percent.