Tuesday, December 7

Nicaragua goes to the polls in an attempt by Ortega to fortify himself in power for another five years

This November 7, Nicaragua is called to the polls in a general election called an “electoral farce” by the opposition and a large part of the international community in which the former leader of the Sandinista revolution, Daniel Ortega, will foreseeably win a fourth consecutive term, accumulating power for five more years.

The human rights situation in the Central American country “has been deteriorating for years,” lamented the deputy director of HRW’s Americas division, Tamara Taraciuk, who in an interview with Europa Press has detailed that “progressively, the Ortega and (Rosario) Murillo’s regime has seized power, gradually co-opting the judiciary, the Supreme Electoral Council, and the National Assembly ”.

But not only the situation of Human Rights worries the international community, in the electoral arena “the regime has implemented repressive strategies aimed at dismantling the opposition, deterring any protest against the Government through fear and paving the way for reelection. ”, Has alerted Taraciuk.

In this context, there has been a “wave of arbitrary detentions,” which in some cases has led to the imprisonment of critics of Ortega, including seven presidential candidates, as well as journalists, defense attorneys, student leaders, and peasants.

The “hunt” for critics is endorsed by the approval of a series of “abusive laws and reforms that violate fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and of the press, and that restrict the political participation of opposition candidates”. laws passed by the National Assembly, controlled by supporters of the regime.

For all this, “in Nicaragua today there are no conditions for free, fair and competitive elections,” concluded Taraciuk, since in addition to the fact that “the main opposition political figures are in prison with charges fabricated by the regime,” the Supreme Council Electoral – “entirely made up of members related to the Government -“, has suppressed the legal personality of the main opposition parties, preventing them from participating in the elections.

Without opposition, it can only be expected that on November 7, Ortega will be the winner ”, although“ it will not be the result of a fair contest in which different forces vie for power, but of a pantomime where they do not even intend to maintain a democratic facade, ”he added. .

In this sense, Ortega, in power since 2007, and his vice president, wife and right hand, Rosario Murillo, will seek to exceed 72 percent of the votes they managed to collect in the last elections, held in 2016 and also involved in controversy and accusations. His victory in the elections is presumable: a minimum of 35 percent is needed to win, in elections that celebrate a single round.

The polls will also receive the votes of Nicaraguans to renew the 92 seats in the National Assembly, which is currently akin to the ruling party and has been in charge of passing most of the laws that have served to undermine the freedoms of the legislature. Nicaraguans, as well as members of the Central American Parliament. Also in the polls for these two organs, Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is expected to wipe out.

The FSLN will face a total of six parties, all accused by the opposition of “collaborationists”, of serving as a platform to “legitimize” elections that do not have the basic guarantees to be so.

Chronicle of a repressive escalation

Nicaraguans live “virtually in a police state whose civil liberties are severely restricted,” where critics are frequently watched and besieged by the police or pro-government groups. “Anyone who expresses criticism of the government is exposed to the arbitrariness of the regime,” lamented Taraciuk.

In addition, Ortega has ensured that there are no surprises in the elections, as happened to him in 1990 with an unexpected defeat against an opposition alliance that, with Violeta Chamorro at the head, took the Presidency from him. The National Assembly approved at the end of 2020 a battery of laws that expanded its capacity to accuse different political actors of treason, while at the beginning of 2021 Ortega went a step further and, together with his allies, appointed a new Supreme Council Electoral (CSE) with magistrates aligned with the ruling party.

But this campaign has not been carried out only by the blow of laws to secure another five years of power. The arrests have also finally made it impossible for the opposition to present a united front and run for elections.

Relevant figures such as Cristiana Chamorro or Juan Sebastián Chamorro, children of former President Violeta Chamarro, ended up behind bars for alleged crimes of treason. Journalists, activists and opposition figures have also been the target of these arrests in the months leading up to the elections.

In the midst of this hostile climate, the pandemic has been the background to limit an electoral campaign that has been reduced to rallies of a maximum of 200 people, with events that have not been able to exceed 90 minutes and with the request by of the court that the campaign was carried out, for the most part, virtually.

Ortega himself has not made a media and electoral display in this campaign either, as he did in 2020, when he organized large events in line with the restrictions that the Central American country adopted in the framework of the pandemic, which did not include confinements and were of the most lax in the region.

International community

The electoral call and the development of the entire campaign have been marked by international pressure that, however, “has been insufficient to force Ortega to stop his repressive escalation”, and with “the measures adopted by the governments of the United States and the European Union, including the increase in individual sanctions against high officials of the regime, have not stopped the upsurge in violence against the opposition instead of achieving concessions ”, deplored Taraciuk.

For this reason, and in the face of the scenario that is emerging in which Ortega will emerge victorious from the polls, the international community must direct all its efforts to “the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civil liberties necessary for the development of free elections. and fair ”, he adds.

Taraciuk has made mention of the “central role” that Washington has, asking the US Lower House to approve the Renacer Act, which “has a forceful plan of action to confront the Ortega dictatorship,” and the Joe Biden Administration that increase sanctions on senior officials.

But not only the United States has something to say, but also “Canada, the European and Latin American democracies” in an attempt to “raise the cost of Ortega’s abuses and to isolate him even more at the regional level”, something in which the Organization of American States (OAS) that must put on the table the suspension of Nicaragua in the body.

Finally, it is “necessary”, Taraciuk has emphasized, that the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter to ensure that the Nicaraguan crisis is included in the Security Council’s agenda.