MANAGUA — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is allegedly dipping into hefty Venezuela-funded coffers to bribe, buy and scatter the weakened opposition as part of his push for a second term, lawmakers and analysts say.
And when money doesn't work, Ortega's ruling Sandinista Front is using strong-arm tactics to silence the opposition, including the removal of four democratically elected mayors in the past month, the analysts say.
Several opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly have accused the Sandinistas of offering substantial sums of money to reach the 56 votes — or 60 percent of lawmakers — needed to reverse the constitutional ban on consecutive reelection and legitimize Ortega's 2011 candidacy. Sandinista lawmakers deny the allegations.
A Sandinista-controlled division of the Supreme Court ruled last year that the reelection ban doesn't apply to Ortega, who is already advertising his candidacy on billboards across the capital. But to eliminate doubt about whether his candidacy is legal, Sandinistas are moving to reform the constitution and strike the reelection ban altogether, analysts say.
Jose Pallais, a lawmaker with the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), told The Miami Herald that he and four other lawmakers were offered money, cabinet positions and judgeships in exchange for their votes.
"I was offered a seat on the Supreme Court if I went against my party and voted with the Sandinistas," he said.
The congressman said he rejected the offer "immediately" and reported the alleged bribe to his party, led by former President Arnoldo Aleman. The PLC has publicly denouned the alleged bribe attempts, but has not filed any complaints or sought an official investigation.
Pallais said the PLC's 20 lawmakers in the 92-seat assembly will remain firmly behind a "wall of dignity" to avoid Sandinista temptations to cross party lines.
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