Sandinista draft constitution debated. Opposition demands safeguards before agreeing to new document
In a strong challenge to the Sandinista government, leaders of all six opposition parties in the National Assembly say they will refuse to accept Nicaragua's proposed constitution, unless the Sandinistas make several major political concessions in the coming year. Among the opposition's demands: a ban on presidential succession, granting budget-making power to the Assembly, firmer property guarantees, less state control of the economy, and a pledge to hold periodic elections at the municipal level.Skip to next paragraph
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Nicaragua's 1974 Constitution, which provided for a presidential-congressional system of government, was suspended when the Sandinista National Liberation Front took power in July 1979. But a month later a Bill of Rights was published which guaranteed individual freedoms as well as freedom of the press. Last October, however, the Sandinistas issued a decree suspending civil rights such as free expression and public assembly because ``the brutal aggression by North America and its internal allies has created an extraordinary situation.'' The Sandinistas also suspended many civil rights between 1982 and 1984.
In a series of interviews, leaders from each of the three largest opposition parties voiced criticism of the draft constitution, divulged by the government Feb. 21. The opposition leaders said the proposed constitution does not give them a fair shot at political power nor offer adequate safeguards to prevent the Sandinistas from imposing, in the words of a delegate from the leftist Socialist Party, a ``revolutionary dynasty.''
``The Sandinistas have to decide whether they want a real democracy or have the opposition parties around as an adornment,'' said Eduardo Molina, general secretary of the rightist Democratic Conservative Party -- the largest opposition party within the Assembly.
``It will be a pity if the Sandinistas are the only party to sign,'' said Mauricio Diaz, the leader of the rightist Social Christian Popular Party. ``But if changes are not made, we have nothing more to do,'' he added.
Western diplomats here say that, for the Sandinistas to maintain international support among US allies in Western Europe and Latin America, the opposition parties must accept the constitution. Many of these countries are, to some degree, impressed by the measure of political pluralism present in the Assembly.
That international support is all the more important, the diplomats say, now that President Reagan is waging a relentless campaign to discredit the Sandinistas and pressure the United States Congress to renew military aid to the Nicaraguan ``contras'' (rebels), who are trying to overthrow the Sandinista government.
The constitution, which would be the first since the 1979 Sandinista-led overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was written during the last year by a 20-member commission appointed in proportion to each party's representation in the elected 96-member Assembly. The Sandinistas hold 61 seats in the Assembly and 13 on the commission. The Democratic Conservative Party holds 14 seats in the Assembly, the rightist Independent Liberal Party (PLI) nine, and the Social Christian Popular Party six.
Three small leftist parties -- the Communists, Socialists, and Marxist-Leninists -- hold two seats each in the Assembly. Leaders of these parties vowed to join the protest unless more radical changes are introduced into the constitution. The Marxist-Leninists, for example, are demanding a total ban on private property.
The PLI, along with three other rightist parties, has refused to participate in the constitutional process because of a state of emergency imposed by the government last October to combat alleged attempts by the ``contras'' to create an internal front. The Nicaraguan Army has been fighting the US-backed contras for the past 4 years.
For the next four months the document will be available to the public at municipal meetings throughout Nicaragua. The final draft is scheduled for completion in January 1987.
Of chief concern to some opposition parties is that the draft has no clause banning presidential sucession -- an important issue in a country that lived for 42 years (1937-1979) under the rule of the Somoza family. The current President, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, was elected to a 6-year term in 1984.
Moreover, all six opposition parties complained that the draft denies the Assembly the right to approve a national budget formulated by the chief executive.
What also bothers the three largest opposition parties is that the document offers no special protection for private property -- a crucial issue for private producers who claim the government has created a climate of insecurity by confiscating land (albeit with compensation) under the 1980 agrarian reform law. The constitution stipulates that all property should have ``as its principal object the benefit of the people.''
Despite these complaints, some Western diplomats observers say the constitution could be a prototype both in Latin America and among Socialist nations.
Unlike the constitutions of the Soviet Union and Cuba, the Sandinistas do not arrogate to themselves the role of ``vanguard party'' nor adopt the official ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
But a Western diplomat said the document allows the opposition parties to exist ``only at the grace of the Sandinistas. They are marginal parties and will never achieve power.''
Most of the leaders of the opposition parties expressed the hope that the Sandinistas are holding back with the concessions more as a negotiating tactic than as a matter of principle.
``I really expect both the Sandinistas and the political parties to give a little,'' said Ariel Bravo, a delegate of the Communist Party. ``But I expect the Sandinistas will give a little more,'' he added.
``I do not think they are at all interested in being the only party to sign the constitution.''