Nicaragua Electoral Council Expels Opposition Legislators

Ortega’s final blow to Parliament. The pretext: the request from the leader of the “new” loyal opposition PLI.

By Arlen Cerda  (Confidencial)

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Parliament seats empty in protest of Daniel Ortega’s laws. File Photo: Carlos Herrera/confidencial

HAVANA TIMES — Sixteen representatives in Nicaragua’s Parliament, who were elected in 2011 under the Liberal Independent Party Alliance (PLI Alliance)’s umbrella at the voting booths, and who formally expressed their intention to no longer remain on in this party, were unseated by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), according to a notification sent to the National Assembly.

The CSE responded to the PLI’s new legal representative’s request, Pedro Reyes, who the Supreme Court (CSJ) appointed as the party’s leader at the beginning of June, taking leadership away from opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, thereby leaving the opposition National Coalition for Democracy without a designated spot on the ballot, less than five months before the general elections are set to take place on November 6th.

With this ruling, the Supreme Court did not acknowledge former party conventions which had replaced the leadership from an old party. In 2009, the PLI was one of the smallest parties, however, in 2011, thanks to the framework of a movement led by Montealegre, the PLI was established as the second most voted political party and it won 26 seats (out of 92) in the National Assembly, according to official election results.

The excuse is alleged disobedience

After taking on the PLIs legal representation, Reyes demanded that the parliamentarians elected in 2011 recognize his leadership and began to concentrate his efforts on taking complete control of the party. However, he wasn’t successful and on July 15th, he threatened to request that all of those who hadn’t responded be unseated. This is the request that the CSE responded to last Thursday, using the argument that legislators can’t change the party which they were elected to represent.

According to the Informe Pastran newsletter, “Nicaragua’s Electoral Power accepted the decision Reyes was fighting for,” and therefore 16 legislators lost their seats “because they failed to answer to the calls of the new legal representative of the party for which they were elected to represent in 2011.”

Among the 16 legislators ousted were the party’s original legislative leader, Wilber Lopez; the opposition’s aspiring presidential candidate cut down by the Supreme Court, Luis Callejas; the former presidential candidate and the bloc’s leader, Eduardo Montealegre, and the third secretary of the Governing Board of the National Assembly, Maria Eugenia Sequeira. They also booted legislators Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios, Alberto Lacayo, Francisco Valdivia, Javier Vallejo, Armando Herrera, Eddy Herrera, Carlos Langrand, Boanerges “Pepe” Matus, Indalecio Rodriguez, Corina Leiva as well as Enrique Saenz and Victor Hugo Tinoco, coalition allies from the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

Eliseo Nunez, who was elected as Eduardo Montealegre’s alternate in 2011, told Confidencial that legislators from the original party still hadn’t been formally notified of the CSE’s ruling. However, official social media accounts belonging to the Sandinista Renovation Movement and Citizens for Liberty (which was the PLI beforehand, led by Montealegre), openly condemned the unseating of the legislators.

Miembros de la Junta Directiva de la Asamblea Nacional. Xochilt Martínez/Confidencial
Miembros de la Junta Directiva de la Asamblea Nacional. Xochilt Martínez/Confidencial

Confidencial still hasn’t been able to confirm independently that this ruling was sent by the CSE to the National Assembly, which is currently in its mid-year recess. Ousted legislators – the majority were present in Parliament yesterday- haven’t been formally notified about being unseated yet neither.

“They can get rid of us all and they can take away our party, but they’ll never be able to take away our dignity and principles,” Citizens for Liberty claimed on their Facebook account. The MRS also took to their Facebook and Instagram accounts and stated that “(Daniel) Ortega has taken complete control over the the National Assembly by ousting opposition legislators,” and said that “in order to repeal Law 840 (which gave the concession for construction of an inter-oceanic canal), they’re going to have to completely clean out this pigsty,” referring to Nicaragua’s Parliament.

Clauses against “turncoats”

According to what Reyes has previously made mention to, the legal argument behind the CSE’s ruling is based on a couple of clauses which were introduced when the Law of the Judicial Branch was reformed and signed in December 2014.

These clauses stipulate that among the “causes for definitive expulsion, and (which) consequently results in the legislator losing his or her seat,” is the “if they change their electoral option from the political party they were elected to represent, while they’re still representing this party.” Furthermore, it goes on to say that “every legislator must group together for the party they were elected to represent.”

When the reforms were approved, it was claimed that these new clauses were directly focusing on preventing elected legislators from changing their party. However, until last Wednesday, there were at least eight independent legislators who act on the margins of the parties they were elected to represent in today’s National Assembly, including the ruling Sandinista Front’s ally, Wilfredo Navarro.

The PLI that now answers to Reyes – who is its legal representative and Party Leader but wasn’t an elected legislator, will be led by legislator Adolfo Martinez Cole, the elected parliament member in the Department of Managua by the PLI in 2011, who decided to break away from the original party and declared himself independent a few months ago.

Other alternate members include Pedro Joaquin Treminio (Matagalpa), Pablo Ortez Beltran (Nueva Segovia), Elman Urbina (Chontales), Hugo Barquero (Boaco), Jose Augusto Rodriguez (Jinotega) y Francisco Jaime (Caribe Sur).

The pro-government Informe Pastran attributes to diplomatic sources the information that states that “when Parliament starts holding sessions again after the holidays, it will prevent these [expelled] legislators from entering (…), and it will give their seats to those that Pedro Reyes has requested for instead.

The CSE’s ruling has come a week after several of these opposition parliament members, now unseated, went on a tour of different US organizations to expose the opposition’s exclusion from November’s general elections.

The opposition maintains that its exclusion from the elections is part of the closing of political spaces undertaken by Comandante Daniel Ortega, who is looking for a third presidential term, in elections where independent electoral observers will not be allowed to monitor this “electoral farce”.