The Republic of Nicaragua  is a constitutional democracy; Nicaragua gained its independence from Spain in 1821. The two autonomous regions of the Atlantic coast are governed somewhat separately, and choose their leaders through elections independently of the national government.
Nicaragua’s government is divided into four branches. The executive branch consists of the president and vice president. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court, subordinate appeals courts, district courts, and local courts, plus separate labor and administrative tribunals. The Supreme Court oversees the entire judicial system and consists of 12 justices elected by the National Assembly for seven-year terms.
Though the judicial system is relatively ineffective and plagued by party interests and manipulation by the wealthy elite, it does have some points in its favor, including an approach that attempts to reduce crowding in jails by having the aggressor and the aggrieved meet to strike a deal. For minor offenses, this is effective.
There is no capital punishment in Nicaragua, the maximum sentence being 30 years (though the abominable conditions of Nicaraguan prisons makes one wonder if the sentence isn’t equally harsh).
The legislative branch consists of the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), a chamber in which 90 diputados (deputies) representing Nicaragua’s different geographical regions vote on policy. The diputados are elected from party lists provided by the major political parties, though defeated presidential candidates that earn a minimum requirement of votes automatically become lifetime members, and by law, former presidents are also guaranteed a seat.
The fourth branch of Nicaraguan government is unique to Nicaragua: The Consejo Supremo Nacional runs the elections and oversees the campaign period. Politicized since the Pact of 2000, the body is rampantly abused to further the interests of Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega.
Prior to his election in 2006, Ortega attempted repeatedly to implement a parliamentary system that would weaken the executive and permit a sort of power sharing favorable to the Sandinistas, without success. Upon regaining the presidency, he immediately instituted direct or participatory governance through Chávez-esque Consejos Populares Ciudadanos (CPCs). Though they ostensibly reach down to permit the poor a more direct engagement with the government, in practice they undermine the other layers of government and facilitate rabble-rousing by Nicaragua’s populist and billigerent president.
The president and diputados of Nicaragua  are elected every five years. The president could not run for consecutive terms until 2009, when Ortega had a Supreme Court justice overrule that decision (to the dismay of many). The Consejo Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Council, or CSE) consists of seven magistrates elected by the National Assembly for five-year terms. The CSE has the responsibility of organizing, running, and declaring the winners of elections, referendums, and plebiscites. However, electoral reforms put in place in 2000 allowed the FSLN and the PLC the new ability to name political appointees to the Council, politicizing the CSE to the extreme.
The international community decried the fact that the entire process of recognizing new political parties, declaring candidates, and managing the mechanics of holding elections could be so easily subverted to ensure the two strongest parties—the PLC and the FSLN—divide the spoils of government between themselves. These “reforms” have led to a perceived reduction in the transparency of the Nicaraguan government as a whole.
Note another trend as well: Nearly every Nicaraguan presidential candidate (with the exception of Doña Violeta), has been, at one time or another, jailed by a previous administration. Tachito jailed Ortega, and Ortega in turn jailed at one point or another both Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños.