U.S. concerned about Nicaragua plan to end presidential term limits

MANAGUA Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:58pm EST

A woman walks past murals of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega (R) and Nicaraguan revolutionary and Sandinista leader Augusto Cesar Sandino in Catarina November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

A woman walks past murals of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega (R) and Nicaraguan revolutionary and Sandinista leader Augusto Cesar Sandino in Catarina November 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas

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MANAGUA (Reuters) - The United States on Friday criticized a proposal by Nicaragua's ruling party to remove presidential term limits, which could allow Washington's former Cold War adversary Daniel Ortega to stay in power indefinitely.

Earlier this month Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front put forward a plan to change the constitution that would end restrictions on re-election, although the president has yet to say publicly whether he wants to run again in 2016.

Nicaragua's law had a two-term limit for presidents but that was overridden by a controversial Supreme Court ruling that allowed Ortega to run for office again in 2011.

The U.S. government expressed concern about the new proposal, which would make Nicaragua the latest in a string of Latin American countries from Bolivia to Ecuador to grant presidents power extending beyond their traditional limits.

"We are following very closely the constitutional measures proposed by President Ortega and his administration," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"We are concerned that steps that concentrate power and undermine checks and balances will be harmful to democracy and could hurt the long-term economic development so important to the Nicaraguan people."

The Sandinistas hold 63 of the 92 seats in Nicaragua's National Assembly, giving the party the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution in a vote due next month.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who forged a close alliance with the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has been president of the small Central American country since 2007. He also was president from 1984 to 1990.

The proposed electoral change also would get rid of the minimum simple majority needed to win presidential elections.

Ortega, 68, first took power after Nicaragua's 1979 revolution and was formally elected president in 1984. His government was convulsed by a bitter civil war that pitted his Sandinistas against right-wing Contra rebels backed by the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

After the Sandinistas lost power in 1990, the opposition banned re-election with a clause in the 1995 constitution.

(Reporting by Ivan Castro; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Bill Trott)

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