Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Nicaragua's lawmakers move to expand powers

POWER STRUGGLE Congress has voted for a measure that would give it more powers, while the president's spokesman criticized the move as `creating a crisis'


Nicaragua's congress has made a dramatic new attack on the powers of President Enrique Bolanos, voting to give itself power to ratify, summon and dismiss Cabinet ministers and other officials.

Bolanos' spokesman, Lindolfo Monjarretz, said Friday the action could scare away foreign support for Nicaragua's fragile economy.

The vote late Thursday grew out of a power struggle between Bolanos and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party that ran against him for president in 2001.

Lawmakers rebelled when Bolanos' administration won a corruption conviction against his predecessor, former president and current party leader Arnoldo Aleman.

The National Assembly voted 74-7 for a constitutional amendment that would require a 60 percent vote of congress to ratify any presidential nomination of any public official or diplomat. Under some circumstances, the congress could impose its own candidates.

Sixty percent of the 91-member legislature also would be enough to remove any Cabinet minister. Congress also voted to give itself the power to summon ministers to testify at any time.

The measure would have to be approved by the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Monjarretz said the congressmen "are creating a crisis" in the country and are risking the loss of foreign financial aid that was drawn to Nicaragua by Bolanos' fight against corruption.

"Several ambassadors of friendly countries have indicated that they could cut the aid if institutional instability persists," Monjarretz said.

On Wednesday, EU Ambassador Kees Rade said that aid cannot be given "to a country where there is an institutional deadlock ... and to be honest, we have seen disquieting signals in that sense."

The reforms would modify a 1987 constitution passed during the rule of the leftist Sandinista Front. That document, which gave presidents broad powers, has been modified several times since then.

The changes also increase the influence of the Sandinista Front, which has lost the last three presidential elections but which remains the country's most cohesive political force. It would have nearly enough congressmen by itself to block any nomination if the 60 percent rule is in force.

The party earlier won power-sharing deals with the Liberals and the split among its rivals has increased its leverage.

While polls show that Bolanos is far more popular than his rivals, the Liberal congressmen have remained loyal to Aleman, who chose them as candidates.

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