Despite Honduran crisis, Nicaraguan President Ortega launches bid to extend his term
Nicaragua's leftist leader Daniel Ortega says constitutional limits on presidential terms stand in the way of 'direct democracy.'
Insisting there is no possibility of a coup d'état in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega is pushing forward on a "citizen power" reelection agenda similar to the controversial political project that led to the June 28 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras.Skip to next paragraph
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Speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of Sandinista loyalists Sunday at a rally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the leftist revolution he helped lead, Mr. Ortega called for a constitutional referendum on scrapping presidential term limits.
It's the latest in a series of moves to consolidate power by leftist leaders allied together in the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA). Critics decry such measures as undemocratic, but Ortega, Mr. Zelaya, and other leftists say that taking the decisions to the people is the purest form of democracy and that they must band together against the conservative powers that have traditionally run things in the region.
"The ALBA countries, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, believe they are engaged in an ideological battle and need to employ every resource within the broad parameters of democratic legitimacy to pursue their political project and prevent what they call the right-wing oligarchs from returning to power," says Latin America political analyst Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.
Mr. Shifter said the ALBA countries are "undeterred" by critics and "what should have been a warning in Honduras," because "for them, the alternative is to give up power, which is totally contrary to their political game plan."
As part of Ortega's effort to implement so-called "direct democracy," he says people should not face any constitutional restrictions on who they want to lead them. The Sandinista boss insists his party represents a majority in Nicaragua and that term limits are an example of the "oligarchy's fear of the people."
"The right is terrified of the people and the word 'citizen power,' " Ortega said. "They are afraid of the poor and the farmers, who are the great majority in Nicaragua."
Even though Zelaya's referendum project, which was promoted using similar language, led to a political crisis in Honduras, Ortega's own presidential clock is ticking. He must make his move now if he hopes to remain in office beyond the 2011 elections.