Although constitutionally defined as a democracy, Nicaragua, between 1934 and 1979, was ruled by the Somoza family, who did not hesitate to suppress political opponents violently. The last of the constitutions promulgated during the Somoza period, effective 3 April 1974, provided for a bicameral Congress and a president elected for a six-year term, and guarantees of political rights. After the FSLN took power as the Government of National Reconstruction in July 1979, this constitution was abrogated and Congress dissolved. From July 1979 until November 1984, executive power was vested in a junta composed of five members (three members after April 1980).
The 1984 electoral reforms created an executive branch with a president elected for a six-year term by popular vote and assisted by a vice president and a cabinet. (The presidential term was shortened to five years in 1995.) Legislative power is vested in a 93-member unicameral National Constituent Assembly elected under a system of proportional representation for six-year terms. The electoral process in Nicaragua is said to be one of the most complicated in the Americas as it forces voters to select candidates for the office of president, National Assembly posts, and local municipalities from a vast number of political parties. Further, vote count is still a tedious, manual process.
The Sandinista constitution of 1987 is still in effect; it preserves the previous institutional structure. President Arnoldo Alemán's Liberal Alliance, a conservative group that supported the Somoza dictatorship, also supported the National Opposition Union (UNO) candidate and its candidate former President Violeta Chamorro during her six-year reign. Alemán's support diminished when Chamorro failed to control the UNO coalition; Alemán thus switched to the Liberal Party to launch his presidential campaign in 1996. The disbanded UNO party forced Chamorro to link with the Sandinistas in Congress to maintain control of her office; she thus maintained the Sandinista control over the Revolutionary Army. Alemán's main purpose as the National Liberal Party representative was to overturn Chamorro and try to reverse some of the economic policies of her regime.
President Bolaños, on the other hand, has sought to increase the country's exports and generate economic growth by liberating the national economy. Although the country possesses few comparative advantages for economic development, President Bolaños has set the goal of incorporating his country into the world economy to reduce poverty and boost employment. Talks with other Central American countries and the United States to reach a free trade agreement are moving forward. When reached, a free trade agreement with the United States should help boost Nicaraguan exports and energize its economy.