A FOUR-MONTH power struggle in Nicaragua has forced President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to give up any hopes of a second term - and squashed her son-in-law's aspirations of succeeding her in 1996.
Mrs. Chamorro's dreams of a family dynasty ended last week when she was forced into a compromise with the National Assembly over amending the Constitution. The deal was struck under pressure from foreign donors, who wield a stick of $500 million in aid over Nicaragua.
The pact makes the country more governable, says Tomas Delaney, chief government counsel and a key negotiator. "The important thing is that the country's institutional system was put to the test without us clubbing each other on the streets, and it functioned," he says.
The Assembly, which includes both former left-leaning Sandinistas and right-wing politicians, sought last February to reduce the powers of the presidency with 67 amendments to the Constitution.
During its rule in the 1980s, the Sandinista National Liberation Front had set up a government with a strong presidency. Today, the FSLN remains Nicaragua's largest party.
Among other issues, the Assembly passed amendments imposing controls on corruption and nepotism, and rewriting rules for candidacies and elections.
The standoff created a constitutional crisis. Chamorro engineered a ruling from a pliant Supreme Court that voided publication of the Assembly's reforms. The Assembly then refused to recognize the Court's authority and refrained from electing new justices to the Supreme Electoral Council June 7, deepening the impasse.
In a final series of negotiations with legislators, the executive branch decided not to contest a key amendment banning incumbents from reelection or from being succeeded by close relatives.
Chamorro's chief aide and son-in-law, Presidency Minister Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, in effect was barred from running for president.
The resolution comes just in time: The conflict was about to cost the country sorely needed economic assistance. In meetings that began yesterday, the Chamorro administration is expected to meet with international organizations and donor nations in Paris to discuss crucial 1996-97 aid commitments. Eivor Halkjahr, Sweden's Ambassador in Nicaragua, said flatly that "without the Paris deadline, they would not have come to an agreement at this point."
The accord promises to restart Nicaragua's stalled court system and electoral machinery. It is also expected to bolster stability during the remaining 18 months of Chamorro's term and put the country's fragile democracy on surer footing. Nicaragua has been the scene of much political violence since Chamorro defeated the Sandinistas in 1990 elections.
The two sides failed to reach agreement on electing new justices to the Supreme Court, which a constitutional amendment expands from nine to 12 members. Further efforts to choose these and electoral magistrates are expected.
But the indecision may open some doors for Mr. Lacayo, who "is taking his chances that the Supreme Court will overturn the prohibition on his candidacy," says Christian Democratic legislator Cairo Lopez. That is an outcome observers consider unlikely but not impossible.
But with the two sides still deeply distrustful of one another, observers are pondering whether the complex accord will actually stick.
Just hours after the agreements were signed June 16, a hard-line faction of the Sandinistas that was left out of the negotiations occupied the Assembly building. On Saturday, about 1,000 Sandinista protesters forced the Assembly to suspend a session which was planning to consider the pact.
On other issues, both sides are claiming victory. Chamorro insisted when signing the agreement that "there have been neither victors nor vanquished."
Two key constitutional issues were taxation without representation and greater public input into economic policy.
The Assembly was battling for the right to approve tax measures heretofore passed by decree and to ratify agreements signed by the administration with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other international financing bodies.
The administration does not want Assembly interference in these areas, saying legislators would upset fine-tuned adjustment programs and jeopardize vital foreign aid. A compromise was reached that recognizes the Assembly's right to approve, but calls for negotiation and consensus when these matters arise.