Post-electoral crisis in Nicaragua: Where is Daniel Ortega?

On Sunday November 9, 2008 Nicaraguans went to the polls to elect municipal authorities. The numerous irregularities that took place before the election laid the ground for what turned out to be a bad outcome. The electoral authority – Consejo Supremo Electoral – revoked the legal standing of Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista and Partido Conservador, two political parties opposed to president Daniel Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). Local authorities harassed NGOs funded by international donors by raiding their offices, arguing they were conducting illegal activities; the authorities did not bring any specific charges against the organizations. Nicaraguans who applied for voter IDs so that they could cast their votes faced considerable delays in the process. Moreover, the electoral authority denied the presence of international electoral observers – for the first time since 1990 according to The Economist– and delayed granting permits to the few local groups that were allowed to observe the electoral process. On the day of the election, the few non-FSLN supporters that participated as electoral observers – mostly affiliated with the competing Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC) and the alliance that supported Eduardo Montelegre’s campaing for mayor of Managua – reported major irregularities during the electoral process. Some polls closed earlier than mandated, and by the time polls officially closed, there were already claims of widespread fraud by Daniel Ortega’s government and the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional.

After a week of turbulence throughout Nicaragua, there has not been an official statement declaring the results of the municipal elections. The Consejo Supremo Electoral has reported preliminary results on its website, but these are yet to be official. The electoral authority, in response to petitions made by the opposition, agreed to recount the ballots. The recount gave the lead to the FSLN. Managua’s opposition candidate Eduardo Montealegre and the PLC alliance continue to advocate for a recount under the auspice and observation of the international community, a move stubbornly rejected by the government.

Amid the crisis, the office of President Daniel Ortega remains silent. The website of the presidency only reports a statement from the chief of the electoral body in which he declares provisional results for the November 9, 2008 elections giving a national advantage to the FSLN. While opposition and government supporters are clashing in the streets of Nicaragua supporting either political force, the Nicaraguan Delegation to the Organization of American States issued a statement. The statement claims that that the OAS and the U.S. State Department, through their official statements on the situation in the country, threaten Nicaragua’s institutions. In the Delegation’s words, both positions seek to delegitimize Nicaraguan’s free will to choose the FSLN’s candidates as their best choice.

There is no clear path ahead to solve the crisis as a result of the government’s unwillingness to a) propose a path to solve it, or b) compromise on a recount of the votes under close observation of international organizations. The private sector, through CIPE’s partner COSEP, and Nicaragua’s Catholic Church have been more active than Daniel Ortega’s government in appeasing Nicaragua – they are advocating for a closely observed recount. Yet their efforts will not succeed unless Ortega’s government is willing to compromise on a recount or even a new election.

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