Rigged Election in Ortega’s Nicaragua

by Andrés Carranza Betancourt

Following Donald Trump’s electoral victory, many took the streets in dismay and have even started petitions calling on the Electors to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for their candidate. Democrats expected a win and lost, but they did so in a transparent process. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nicaragua. On Nov.6, President Daniel Ortega was re-elected for a third consecutive term in an election that was anything but free and fair: a reminder of how privileged Americans really are.

Nicaragua provides a case study in rigged elections.

Most countries in the region have constitutional term-limits for presidents. Nonetheless it takes a simple constitutional amendment or a highly politicized court to get rid of these. Once a party has enough political power and will to do so, as was the case of Ortega’s socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSNL), it is fairly straightforward.

Enough seats in Congress gave the FSNL the power to politicize the Supreme Court, whose constitutional commission overturned in 2011, a ban on consecutive re-election and term limits, giving Ortega the right to run for a second time. In 2014, Nicaraguan lawmakers furthered Ortega’s powers, as they approved constitutional changes that would allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, setting the stage for an imminent dictatorship.

Ortega’s next move consisted on inhibiting the opposition from participating in the democratic process. In June, the Supreme Court ousted Eduardo Montealegre as leader of the Independent Liberation party (PLI) and placed Pedro Reyes, who allegedly has strong ties with the government, as leader. Montealegre was leading the National Coalition for Democracy, comprised of the PLI and civil society groups. The court’s ruling removed the latter from the ballot, leaving small parties with ties to Ortega’s own, as the only alternative.

Running virtually unopposed, Ortega  named his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice-presidential candidate. An unconstitutional move, he confirmed what many Nicaraguans feared: the return of a family dynasty to power, as many see Murillo as heir to the 70 year-old President’s seat.

After succeeding on the events leading to the election, it was time for Ortega to control the election itself.

He banned international observers from the process, a strategy that confirms claims that the election lacked transparency. In fact, reports from past processes in Nicaragua reveal limits in observation and irregularities in preparations, voting procedures, count and reporting of results.

The Presidential Election in the United States has been unprecedented. However, candidates did not seek to get rid of term limits, resort to nepotism and under any circumstance attempt to oust the opposition. When there were claims of voter suppression, the courts acted accordingly and after votes were counted, the defeated candidate accepted the results. This is what democracy looks like.

The burning of flags and riots against the President-Elect undermined the image of a democratic system that has for centuries been an example of political alternation, pluralism and respect for the will of the people. Protestesters were exercising their right to free speech and freedom of assembly, there is no question about that, but refusing to accept the results because your candidate did not win is immature and disrespectful to any fair democratic process. When Trump refused to say whether or not he was going to accept the results of the election, many of those chanting against him utterly condemned him using similar arguments as the ones above.

For many, the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote means she deserves to be president. America’s institutions are strong and her courts independent and those willing to get rid of the Electoral College can attempt to do so with liberty. Others might cite Trump’s comments and actions in the campaign trail as reasons why they don’t accept the results.

Once again, America is not Nicaragua where the president controls the opposition and legal system. People can put a fight in court and congress if necessary.

For many, Trump’s election resembles some kind of apocalyptic dream. However it is fair to remind them that they at least had the chance to vote freely against him. Others have even contemplated leaving the country. I would invite them to Nicaragua, where there is no one to defend you in court or on the ballot. Millions around the world dream of having the democratic privileges that Americans have; of voting for a candidate and knowing that their vote counts, even though their prefered choice ends up losing.

Andrés Carranza Betancourt is a passionate learner in an exuberant world. He was born and raised in El Salvador and attends Bates College where he Double Majors in Politics and Economics and is part of the institution’s debate team. He has written various political articles in his home country for nationally-acclaimed newspapers and is an avid football fan (and refuses to call the sport soccer). Andrés enjoys a good time with family and friends and is committed to his country’s progress.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

The picture above was created by Cancillería del Ecuador, is under a CC BY-SA 2.0 , and can be found here.

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