The center-right Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) this week is denying it will support any efforts to reform the constitution and allow President Daniel Ortega to remain in power as part of last week s political negotiation to free their party boss, former President Arnoldo Alemán.
Alemán, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December, 2003 for money laundering, embezzlement and corruption, was cleared of all charges by the Supreme Court on Jan. 18. Two hours later, the National Assembly had reconvened after more than two months of gridlock and elected a new Sandinista-controlled directorate, returning Ortega-loyalist Rene Núñez to the top legislative post.
Critics immediately interpreted the rapid series of events as a clear indication that the power-sharing pact between Ortega and Alemán the infamous pacto is still alive and well after nearly a decade.
This is a continuation of the pacto; a renovation of the pacto, said political analyst Carlos Tünnermann.
Alemán, who claimed he was Ortega s political prisoner after a Sandinista judge first convicted him in 2003, had originally denied reports last week that he was in negotiations with the Sandinista Front to seek freedom in exchange for ceding control of the National Assembly to the ruling party.
This week, however, Alemán admitted in a party communiqué that his PLC had been negotiating his freedom with other minority parties in attempts to unify the liberal, democratic party of the country something the party boss apparently felt could not happen while he remained under house arrest.
To achieve this objective, it was necessary for former President Arnoldo Alemán to be favored with a Law of Amnesty or otherwise achieve his definitive liberty, and that Eduardo Montealegre also be favored by a Law of Amnesty, the PLC communiqué reads.
Montealegre, who leads a splinter Liberal party group in the National Assembly, denies that he was part of any negotiation to give the Sandinistas control of the legislature.
Still, the former Managua mayoral hopeful came under repeated attack this week from other opposition lawmakers who blamed him for preventing the various Liberal party factions from uniting in last week s directorate vote to prevent the Sandinistas who represent a minority of seats from taking control of the National Assembly.
Independent Liberal lawmaker Jamileth Bonilla told The Nica Times this week that Montealegre on two occasions during opposition negotiations vetoed the PLC s proposed consensus candidate for the presidency of the legislative directorate. Unable to reach an agreement with Montealegre s group, the PLC eventually felt obliged to change the negotiation strategy, according to a party statement.
The change in strategy though not specified as such apparently included an agreement with the Sandinista Front to support Núñez for the presidency of the Assembly directorate, which effectively gives Ortega s Sandinista Front control over all four branches of government.
The PLC, however, is trying to spin the directorate vote as a victory for the opposition, by saying that Liberals now represent four of the seven directorate seats, giving them a majority. The new directorate will have two chairs filled by Sandinista lawmakers, two by the PLC, two by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and one by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
Analysts, however, say that Alemán is wrong to consider the ALN part of the Liberal family, considering the minority party has been allied with the Sandinistas for the past year.
Critics also argue that the PLC, in handing over the legislature to the Sandinista Front, has essentially abandoned its protest of alleged electoral fraud committed in the Nov. 9 municipal elections.
With the Sandinistas in control of National Assembly, the legal initiative to nullify the elections a bill Assembly president Núñez has called unconstitutional has little chance of making it to the floor for vote, analysts predict.
With Alemán free and Ortega in control of all branches of government, many suspect the two politicos will now begin to implement the final phase of the pacto: constitutional reforms to allow Ortega to remain in power beyond his five-year term limit.
Analysts say the initiative could happen in one of two ways: through a reform to lift the ban on presidential reelection; or by changing the entire political system to create a semiparliamentary model that would allow Ortega and Alemán to govern the country together.
Núñez this week acknowledged in an interview with a local TV station that a reform bill is in the works, but said he hasn t seen it yet.
Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro meanwhile reported that the Sandinistas plan is allegedly to get the reform measures passed in first vote before July 19, when they celebrate the 30th anniversary of the triumph of the revolution.
Former Attorney General Alberto Novoa, who spearheaded the previous administration s anti-corruption campaign against Alemán back in 2001, told The Nica Times this week that he s certain Alemán s release is part of a combo package that includes the PLC s support for the constitutional reforms.
In the meantime, Novoa is lamenting the Supreme Court s decision to free Alemán, which he calls another mockery of the Nicaraguan justice system.
By absolving Alemán, the former president is now essentially freed of all accountability for the alleged $90 million he was accused of stealing from state coffers.
Adding injury to insult, it was reported this week that Alemán may now be preparing to sue Nicaragua for damages and back pay for the past six years that his government pension has been frozen.