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Cablegate: Constitutional Reform Aimed to Perpetuate

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FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1649
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 002446

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL KCOR KDEM NU
SUBJECT: CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AIMED TO PERPETUATE
STRANGLEHOLD ON DEMOCRACY

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, reason 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary: Constitutional reform is the hot
political topic of the moment in Nicaragua. The Sandinista
Front for National Liberation (FSLN) and the Constitutional
Liberal Party (PLC) are privately negotiating a major
overhaul of the Nicaraguan body politic, focused on creating
likely the first true parliamentary system -- including the
position of a powerful Prime Minister -- in any Latin
American country. The main proponents for these proposed
changes are President Daniel Ortega and former president and
convicted felon Arnoldo Aleman. These mooted constitutional
reforms are little more than a thinly veiled attempt to
perpetuate indefinitely the Ortega-Aleman power-sharing
"pacto." A November 1 decision by a majority of the PLC
National Assembly Deputies appears to have blocked the
changes for now, but not the effort of Ortega and Aleman to
remain in power beyond 2011, by hook or by crook. End
summary.

Key Proposed Amendments
- - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) According to drafts provided to the press and the
Embassy, Aleman and Ortega have agreed upon a range of
sweeping changes to the Constitution that would fundamentally
alter the governmental structure from one in which power is
split between the executive and legislative branches to a
quasi-parliamentary system headed by a strong Prime Minister,
a weak President, a small and more susceptible National
Assembly, and a court system fully subjugated to the
authority of the Prime Minister and National Assembly.
Constitutional changes require a 60-percent majority vote in
two consecutive legislative years.

3. (U) Key amendments made public include:

Article 34 - A convicted criminal whose case is still in the
appeals process would retain all legal rights provided by the
Constitution. This provision would have the effect of
restoring Aleman's full legal rights, including to vote and
run for office.

Article 129 - would eliminate the Supreme Electoral Council
(CSE) as an independent branch of government and replace it
with a new "Electoral Institute" named by the National
Assembly.

Article 133 - would: 1) reduce the number of National
Assembly Deputies from 90 to 70; 2) extend the term for
deputies from five to six years; 3) provide all presidents
and first runners-up since 1984 Deputy slots for life,
including Ortega, Violeta Chamorro, Arnoldo Aleman, Enrique
Bolanos and Daniel Ortega; 4) eliminate the re-election of
Deputies; and, 5) prohibit Deputies from being members of the
Prime Minister's Cabinet.

Article 138 - The National Assembly would elect from among
the Deputies a Prime Minister, with 60 percent of the vote.
The Prime Minister would be confirmed by the President. If a
Prime Minister is not selected within 30 days, the President
would have the authority to send up to three names to the
Assembly for a vote. If none of these is selected, the
President would have the authority to dissolve the Assembly
and call for elections in sixty days. In the interim, the
President would enjoy the full authority to govern the
country. Article 138 also would provide for the removal of
the Prime Minister on a 60 percent vote in a "no
confidence/vota de censura" vote and would provide for life
terms for justices of the Supreme Court.

Article 143 - would eliminate the veto power of the President.

Article 144 - divides the executive functions of the
government between the President, who would be the head of
state and would control the armed forces and police, and the
Prime Minister, who would be the head of government.

Article 145 - would eliminate the office of the Vice
President.

Article 147 - would require a vote of 50 percent plus one of
votes cast to elect a President. This provision would also
eliminate the current prohibition on re-election of the
sitting President and on holding consecutive terms in office.

Article 148 - would set the term for the President at six
years. Once the President leaves office, he or she would
become a member of the National Assembly for life and would
continue to hold immunity from prosecution.

Other Key Provisions:

-- All elections (presidential, National Assembly and
municipal) would be held at the same time starting in
November 2011.
-- Mayors elected in November 2008 would end their term in
2011, when the new rules on elections and terms would come
into effect.
-- Although Deputies cannot be re-elected, those currently
holding seats would be eligible to run again in 2011, but
could not be re-elected after that.
-- Raise the voting age from sixteen to eighteen.

Aleman as Kingmaker or Overplaying His Hand?
-------------------------------------------

3. (C) PLC Deputy and Chairman of the Justice Committee Jose
Pallais has told us privately that the underlying intent of
these changes is to allow Ortega to remain in control after
his current term of office expires in 2011. Under existing
constitutional rules, Ortega would have to wait a whole
presidential term (i.e. until 2016) before he would be
eligible to stand again as president. Pallais believes
Aleman will continue to support Ortega in this effort if he
sees sufficient personal benefit, but the move presents
dangers for him. According to Pallais, if Aleman succeeds in
delivering the approximately 18 votes needed by Ortega to
meet the 60-percent majority needed to effect constitutional
changes, he will completely alienate all grass-roots Liberals
and destroy the PLC. If, however, Aleman promises to support
to Ortega but can not deliver, this failure will deliver a
mortal blow to his long and dirty political career;
effectively, he will have lost what amounts to an internal
vote-of-confidence. Backing Ortega is a lose-lose
proposition for Aleman, Pallais commented, so Aleman will do
so only if potential the reward is high.

4. (C) The rumblings of discontent about constitutional
change within the PLC are significant. In a meeting of the
PLC deputies in Montelimar on November 1, a majority of the
deputies voted not to support the proposed constitutional
changes this year or in 2008 and to seek a public referendum
before any constitutional reforms are enacted. Even PLC
members who are widely considered close to Aleman, such as
PLC First Secretary Wilfredo Navarro and ex-Foreign Minister
Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, are publicly voicing their
discontent. Maximino Rodriguez, chief of the party in the
Assembly, told us that it would be "political suicide" for
any deputy to vote for these reforms now, as the base and a
growing number of the deputies are very angry that Aleman
pre-cooked the changes with Ortega and then presented them to
PLC deputies for approval. In Rodriguez's view, the "reform"
effort is now "dead" for this legislative term.

COMMENT:
-------

5. (C) One of the ongoing debates surrounding the proposed
constitutional changes is whether these reforms are simply a
smokescreen by the Ortega-Aleman pacto to divert attention
away from other issues, including the GON's poor performance,
and to derail opposition unity efforts -- or whether these
proposals represent instead a real effort at a lasting power
grab that would perpetuate the pacto's hold. As the debate
over the amendments continues, we believe the two views are
mutually compatible. Indeed, the furor over the changes has
succeeded in slowing down efforts by the ALN and PLC to
develop a mechanism to jointly participate in the 2008
municipal elections and has served to exacerbate tensions
between and within the parties. At the same time, it is
clear that Ortega and Aleman are keenly interested in
preserving and perpetuating their hold on power and are
seeking some manner to institutionalize that hold prior to
the municipal elections. If these constitutional changes
fail, we can be sure we'll see some other effort by Ortega in
the coming weeks and months, with the collusion of Aleman, to
remain in power beyond 2011.

TRIVELLI

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