Nicaragua's Congress Tuesday approved a constitutional reform that, if ratified, would scrap term limits, enabling President Daniel Ortega to seek reelection in 2016 and indefinitely, an official said.
For the changes to go into effect, the bill must be passed a second time in a new legislative session in 2014.
Thanks to the overwhelming majority Ortega's ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front enjoys in the Congress, the bill easily cleared its first hurdle by a vote of 64 to 26.
The proposed changes would eliminate term limits on the presidency and allow the appointment of active duty police and military officials to government offices currently reserved for civilians.
A brief debate in the Congress was held with little resistance from the opposition, which has been splintered by infighting and weak leadership.
"Ortega's supporters, with extreme political shortsightedness, are pushing Nicaragua to the depths of a new civil war," warned opposition lawmaker Armando Herrera.
In the streets outside, however, dozens of people protested the reforms which they said were aimed at perpetuating Ortega's rule.
The protest was organized by an emerging alliance of civic groups and opposition parties.
Ortega, a leader of the leftist guerrilla movement that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, was the country's leader from 1979 to 1990.
He served first as the coordinator of a ruling junta and then was elected to his first term as president in 1985. He was later re-elected to two more terms in 2007 and in 2011.