Who Controls the National Assembly?

September 25, 2007

Instead of the expected bipolar division between the UNO and the FSLN, a more complicated and fluid set of alignments emerged from the elections of 1990. The UNO won 51 of the 92 seats in the National Assembly, a simple majority; the Sandinistas won 39 seats, enabling them to block constitutional reforms, which require a 60% vote in the legislature. The UNO delegates rapidly split into two groups: one made up of rightists allied with Vice-President Virgilio Godoy and members of the recently disarmed Contras, and the other consisting of moderate centrists. On numerous occasions over the first year, UNO delegates from one faction or the other voted with the FSLN bloc to defeat proposals generated within the UNO coalition. Then, under the guidance of National Assembly President Alfredo Cesar, the UNO coalition was able to unify around a core agenda, and through much of 1991, successfully passed key pieces of legislation. Recently however, the UNO has split again into an ultra-conservative majority led by Cesar and Godoy, and a moderate "center group" which has tenuously allied itself with the FSLN.

The split within the UNO has, since last September, prevented the Assembly from attaining any kind of legislative consensus, culminating in a constitutional crisis. On September 2, the FSLN and the Center Group, protesting Cesar's questionable maneuvering to fill a vacancy on the executive board, boycotted a National Assembly session, thereby deliberately preventing a quorum on the date the Assembly was scheduled to elect two new secretaries. The Assembly proceeded to elect the secretaries, only to have an Appeals Court judge suspend the election until the Supreme Court could rule on its legality. The legislative body's acting president Luis Sanchez (National Assembly President Alfredo Cesar was out of the country) rejected the rul- ing, saying that the Constitution did not give the judiciary the authority to decide quarrels involving the internal organization of other branches of state. A day after Sanchez' statement, Supreme Court President Orlando Trejos (an UNO appointee) wamed the Assembly that adherence to the lower court ruling was mandatory.

Upon his return to Managua, Cesar backed Sanchez' position on the Appeals Court ruling, and threatened to sanction legislators who continued to boycott the Assembly. In a press conference, Cesar said that "the independence of the primary power of the nation is at stake" and that the FSLN was boycotting the Assembly because "it is the only power in this country that has resisted being controlled by the Sandinistas."

President Chamorro responded with a letter (published by La Prensa) to a group of U.S. senators, chiding Cesar for failing to abide by the Appeals Court deci- sion. She announced her refusal to sanction any legislative acts carried out by the Assembly as long as it lacked a legal quorum. On November 27, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, ruled that the matter transcended the realm of "internal organization" of the legislature. It nullified the Assembly's election of September 2 and all legislative actions taken since that date. Cesar termed the vote "just another opinion" and non-binding, and continued to hold sessions.

On December 2, Supreme Court President Trejos instructed the executive branch to ensure Cesar's adherence to the Court's pronouncement. President Chamorro then ordered the Ministry of Governance to safeguard the National Assembly building and its archives, and named a provisional governing board to oversee internal elections for a new president and governing board of the Assembly. The UNO Right accused Chamorro of a "coup d'6tat A la Peru." She portrayed her actions as the dutiful implementation of the Supreme Court ruling that Cesar was illegally holding legislative sessions without a quorum.

The UNO Right now controls 45 votes in the Assembly. The FSLN-Center Group alliance controls 47, a bare majority. In the legislature's internal election, held January 9, a quorum elected Center Group deputy Gustavo Tablada as president. It also elected a governing board made up of three Sandinistas, three members of the Center Group, and one "neutral" member of the Assembly. The UNO Right is now boycotting the Assembly, and Chamorro finds herself reliant on the party she defeated in the general election to support her legislative agenda.



Read the rest of NACLA's Sept/Oct 1993 issue: "Peril And Promise: The New Democracy in Latin America."

Tags: Nicaragua, democratization, Sandinistas, politics

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