The constitutional reforms pushed through in 2005 by the FSLN and PLC benches in accord with the pact between their leaders are to go into effect next January 20, ten days after the new President takes office. These reforms, designed specifically to limit the powers of President Enrique Bolaños, establish that the National Assembly must approve the President’s appointment of ministers and ambassadors, and also create a new Superintendence off Public Services and a new Institute of Urban and Rural Property, both of which answer to the National Assembly rather than the executive branch. These reforms generated an ongoing executive-legislative crisis for most of 1995, which Bolaños failed to handle well due to his obstinate determination to veto them. Both the OAS and the international community tried to negotiate a way out, to no end. Finally a deal was worked out between Bolaños and Ortega, in which both agreed to shelve the reforms until the new government. In the wake of the electoral results, the FSLN and PLC agreed to put the reforms into effect in January 2007, while the ALN argued that they should be consulted with the population first, since they are constitutional changes and were voted through with no public discussion.
There are 65 votes between the FSLN bench, whose members are all loyal to the new President, and the PLC bench, whose members are all there thanks to Alemán. This is more than enough for the simple majority (47) needed to dispatch most legislation, the qualified majority (56) required for any appointment or parliamentary decision of importance, and even to push through new constitutional reforms (62).
BOLAÑOS WILL MOVE TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AFTER ALL
Among the many agreements to come out of the Alemán-Ortega pact was Alemán’s concession to Ortega of a reform to the electoral law in which a presidential candidate in a multi-candidate election can win with 35% of the vote in the first round, down from the earlier 45%. In turn, Ortega conceded to Alemán, who was still President at that time, a constitutional reform granting all future outgoing Presidents a lifetime unelected seat on the National Assembly. It worked for Ortega because he was preparing for his future return to the presidency, and for Alemán because he was preparing to continue running the country from the parliament.
Knowing all of this, the current outgoing President, Enrique Bolaños, who referred to this agreement as “a giveaway legislative seat, fruit of the infamous pact between the two caudillos,” was expected to turn down the seat that now becomes available to him. Both Ethics & Transparency and Bolaños’ candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, recommended the same, to be consistent with his earlier position. Nonetheless, on November 14, Bolaños said that he will not renounce his seat, that he will take it and attend any time he deems it useful. While this change may have to do with the legislative math—assuring an FSLN-ALN alliance enough votes to roll back some of the pact’s constitutional reforms— consistency will have taken a back seat to avarice unless he accepts the seat but renounces the juicy lifetime salary that goes along with it. Failure to do so would be particularly shameful, because, already a wealthy businessman in his own right, Bolaños will also be eligible for two state pensions, one for his service as Vice President and one for his subsequent service as President.
DOES NO ONE CARE ABOUT THE FOREST?
On October 17, former US ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, currently president of the Center for International Policy in Washington D.C., chaired an International Conference on Governability and Transparency in Managua that focused on Nicaragua’s forestry sector. During the event dramatic figures about the country’s environmental disaster were revealed, including the fact that 150,000 hectares of forest are lost annually, with illegal logging benefitting a small mafioso group linked to top Bolaños government officials and leaders and candidates of the three leading parties in the elections: the FSLN, the ALN and the PLC. Days later, Nicaraguan geographer, historian and environmental defender Jaime Incer Barquero was in Washington to receive the Leadership Prize in Conservation, granted each year by the National Geographic Society. In declarations to El Nuevo Diario, Incer Barquero said that Nicaragua has done the least of any country in Central America to conserve its environment and “we are massacring and destroying our possibilities for survival.” He added that “no candidate has come out in favor of nature during the electoral campaign, even though they know that natural resources are the basis of development. There’s no concern about it,” and warned that “the day the last tree is cut down, the last river dries up and the last bird is killed, we’ll no longer have anything to do in Nicaragua.”