The Sandinista deputies in Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a new law on Monday to eliminate electoral competition. Daniel Ortega had sent them his draft bill just three days before. The law bears the ironic title: “Law for the defense of people’s right to independence, sovereignty and self-determination for peace”. Its text essentially bars the opposition from participating in the Nicaraguan elections scheduled for November 2021. Critics call it “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.
The Law received immediate general approval, while discussions continue about specific items. As with all recent legislation that Ortega has sent to Congress, the bill received 70 votes from the FSLN majority. Deputies from the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) cast their 14 votes in opposition.
Who does the ban effect?
The approved bill will become law once it’s been published in the official Gazette. Its contents were left practically unaltered. The measure inhibits a huge swathe of Nicaraguans from opting for public office. Specifically, it bars Nicaraguans who “lead or finance a coup d’etat; those who alter the constitutional order; those who foment or encourage acts of terrorism; who take part in actions that undermine national independence or sovereignty and self-determination; who incite foreign interference in internal affairs; as well as those who ask for military intervention; who organize with financing from foreign powers to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization.” Such citizens “will be [considered] traitors to the nation, and hence unable to opt for public posts in elections.”
Moreover, the prohibitions don’t stop there. The measure bars those who: “propose and support economic, commercial and financial blockades against the country and its institutions.” It further prohibits “those who demand, exalt and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan State and its citizens, and all those who harm the supreme interests of the nation.”
In addition to keeping opponents from running, the bill sent by Ortega specifically maintains the repressive criminal sanctions. According to the text, the electoral prohibitions will be applied: “without affecting the corresponding penal actions established in Nicaragua’s Penal Code for acts of treason, crimes that compromise peace, and crimes against the Nicaraguan Constitution.”
Law is “unconstitutional”
Deputy Jimmy Blandon, in representation of the PLC legislators, explained why his party voted “in opposition”. He stated that “the bill” presented by President Ortega “is an unconstitutional ordinance.” Blandon cited specific articles of the Nicaraguan Constitution that it violates, including articles 49, 171 and 178.
In addition, he critiqued the fact that they’d passed this measure as an “ordinary” law. In fact, Blandon noted, its contents supersede “the legal constitutional order.” “In consequence,” he concluded, “its application would have no legal validity.”
Blandon recalled that sovereignty “is established through suffrage. As a result, the people must decide and elect who will represent them”.
Edwin Castro, head of the Sandinista bench, asserted that Ortega’s bill was “in agreement” with the Constitution and the Laws. He also directed some insults at the PLC representatives.
“Don’t come to me to present legal and constitutional arguments that have no reason for being,” the Ortega functionary said.
Castro took advantage of his platform to reiterate the Sandinista explanation of the protests that took place in 2018. He claimed that the country respects “political rights for all Nicaraguans”, as well as “diversity of thought”. However, he stated, they won’t tolerate “any more attempts at a coup d’etat that brings bloodshed and death”.
The findings of national and international organizations contrast sharply with Castro’s pronouncements. Over the last three years, these organizations have documented the Ortega-led Sandinista Front’s grave violations of human rights. These violations have been in evidence since the April 2018 social uprising.
At that time and ever since, the government responded to protests with death and repression. Their actions left 325 dead, thousands wounded, 100,000 exiles fleeing political persecution and over a thousand political prisoners. At least 106 political prisoners remain in jail today.