Somoza family, presidential orders, Somozas, Sandinistas, independent branch
Since independence, Nicaragua has had a republican form of government, with an elected president, a congress, and a supreme court. However, the executive branch has usually been dominant. Constitutional rights could be suspended, congress and courts usually carried out presidential orders, and the military often played a decisive role. Intervention by the United States also distorted the political system, as the United States used its power and at times troops to keep favored rulers in power, prevent rebellions, and maintain order. From 1936 until 1979 the nation was dominated by the Somoza family, which ruled as a dictatorship. With the support of the U.S.-trained military, known as the National Guard, the Somozas rigged elections, violated human rights, and looted the economy. They were overthrown in 1979 by the revolutionary Sandinista regime, which led the government until 1990. Although the Sandinistas allowed opposition parties, they also restricted rights and manipulated the political process. With the election of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro as president in 1990, Nicaragua began an era of increasingly democratic political practices.
Nicaragua’s current constitution was adopted in 1987 and extensively amended in 1995. Additional minor amendments were added in 2000. Its provisions include guarantees of individual freedoms, rights to education and housing, and equality for women. Voter registration and elections are conducted by the Supreme Electoral Council, which was an independent branch of the government until an amendment in 2000 gave control over the appointments of council members to the ruling party and the largest opposition party. All Nicaraguan citizens over the age of 16 have the right to vote, and voting is by secret ballot.
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