Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has moved closer to an indefinite term in office after his allies in the National Assembly approved constitutional changes that opponents say are designed to keep the Sandinista leader in power for life.
The legislation eliminates presidential term limits, allowing Ortega to seek reelection in 2016. He is currently serving his third term, made possible by a supreme court decision that overrode a constitutional limit to two terms.
Ortega's supporters say the law allows Nicaraguans to choose their leaders more freely.
“What it's saying to Nicaraguans is, [they can] choose who they want without any type of pressure, without any type of threat, without any type of coercion. If you think the president is doing a good job re-elect him, if not then send him home. This is what it is saying and that there will be no more pressure on the Nicaraguan public to exercise their sovereign right to freely and democratically choose their authorities, which is why we think it's a very positive reform,” said Walmaro Gutierrez, a Sandinista member of the National Assembly.
However, Ortega’s opponents slammed the reforms as "illegitimate,” and left the assembly before the vote.
"We totally reject in its entirety the constitutional reform because we consider it illegitimate, because it's based on electoral fraud and a violation of the constitution, and we consider it unnecessary for the Nicaraguan people,” said Eduardo Montealegre, a member of the Liberal opposition.
The changes must be voted on a second time next year to become law.