Nicaragua’s national assembly has voted to scrap presidential term limits, which could allow socialist President Daniel Ortega to remain in power indefinitely.
The National Assembly voted for the amendments a second time on Tuesday with the constitutional changes approved by 64 votes to 25.
Opposition legislators walked out of the chamber in protest after the resounding general vote.
“These reforms are not necessary,” said Eduardo Montealegre, leader of the opposition Liberal Independent Party.
“Perhaps they’re important for the president because they give him absolute power.”
The latest reform would allow President Daniel Ortega to follow in the footsteps of his ideological ally, late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and a string of other Latin American nations to give presidents power extending beyond their traditional limits.
‘Man-handling the constitution’
A move that his critics say is designed to keep the leader in power for life, the amendments will allow the 68-year-old to contest the 2016 presidential elections.
He has yet to say publicly whether he wants to run again for the presidency, but is widely expected to do so.
A former Marxist guerrilla and ally of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, Ortega has been president since 2007.
He first took power after Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution and was formally elected president for a single term in 1984.
Ortega is serving his third term under a Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban in 2009.
The country’s divided opposition has accused him of man-handling the constitution to keep his grip on power and maintains that the reform will increase presidential power at the expense of checks and balances.
Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) controls all four branches of government: the executive, judiciary, electoral authority and national assembly and has a majority of seats in the assembly, making final voting on the reform largely a formality.
Under the new voting rules, candidates can be elected with a simple majority in the first round of voting, avoiding a run-off.
Ortega’s government in the 1980s was convulsed by a civil war that pitted his Sandinistas against right-wing Contra rebels backed by the administration of US President Ronald Reagan.