A large percentage of Nicaraguans stayed home Sunday to protest the electoral farce without competition. These are their reasons.
HAVANA TIMES – Teacher “Catalina” shows her thumb with pride. It is not stained because she did not vote, even though she could be fired when they demand proof of support for the “Comandante.” She took a risk, she explains, because she did not want to be part of elections without any guarantees of transparency. For her, Sunday only represented a “self-proclamation” of Daniel Ortega in power, who clings to a fourth consecutive presidential term.
At the beginning of 2021, “Catalina” wanted to vote, but she changed her mind when the regime began the latest manhunt that already has 39 opponents in prison. “They took away our options and since there were no alternatives, why should I vote,” she ponders in the living room of a borrowed home, where she went to speak with Confidencial, because her house is under surveillance by the Citizen Power Council (CPC) of her neighborhood.
Before November 7, the structure of the Sandinista Front was already guaranteed the votes of state workers. At “Catalina’s” school, they shared a memo in which they asked for personal information, the number of their polling station and finally, sort of jokingly, they told them, “We are going to see those stained thumbs.” This last phrase caused concern among teachers, who have been victims of arbitrary dismissals.
The teacher fears that she will be fired because the economic situation in the country worsens. However, she assures that she is not willing to vote without the freedom to choose the candidate of her preference.
Elections considered as “fraud”
“Pancho” is an engineer and the last time he voted was in 2011. In 2016 he was not interested in participating because they were “rigged,” but this year he expected to exercise his right to vote. In January 2021 he was confident that he would vote for any opposition candidate, no matter who, because the goal was to defeat Ortega. However, the strongman soon began to remove one by one the real adversaries, and the desire of this professional to go to vote vanished, because there was no one left to vote for.
From his perspective, those who went to the polls on Sunday, helped to forge “a better fraud,” because the influx of people was used by the propaganda machinery of the regime to show an alleged support for Ortega.
“There are no elections. There is voting, but not elections. They give you the option to choose only one candidate. This is a complete electoral farce,” said “Pancho.”
“Chepe,” a 55-year-old academic, said the arrest of the candidates of the “real” opposition, dismantled any possibility that there would be a minimum of legitimate competition. It was at that moment that he decided that he would not vote on November 7.
“My initial position was that you had to go, not to win the elections, but to complicate the fraud,” he said.
Although the Sandinista Front has endeavored to try to maintain a show around the electoral process and create conditions with national and international guests, the participation of allied parties on the electoral ballot, the approval of laws that annul political competition and the placing of magistrates on the Supreme Electoral Council that respond to the regime, unmasked the “farce” from the opposition perspective.
“Chepe noted,” these elections “are the most fraudulent from head to toe that have ever existed,” since on other occasions they tried to make at least a credible farce; but with this one, who can believe this without authentic international observation, and with the candidates in prison. That is something that not even Somoza did,” he said.
Likewise, “Luisa”, 30, an unemployed engineer, decided not to vote because there are no guarantees. “It is not a clean process,” that implies a real change for Nicaragua. You don’t have to “play a game that they themselves are assembling,” she said.
They stayed home as a form of protest
“Fabio,” 39 , with a bachelor’s in Marketing and Advertising, said the voting day was like “any Sunday.” He did not go out on the street. In the morning he cleaned the house and shared with his family. In the afternoon, before the interview, he planned to see a movie with his children. The polling station to which he belongs is located 5.5 kilometers from his home, but he assures, he had no motivation to vote.
“The process has not given me the confidence to go to elect, I can go to vote but I cannot elect,” emphasized “Fabio.” He recalls that in the prelude to the voting, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo jailed seven presidential hopefuls, canceled the legal status of three opposition political parties and organized custom-made elections.
At the other end of Managua lives “Sofia,” 67, retired, and who did not go to vote either. “I have my conscience and thumb clean,” she said. Her assessment is that the elections were “undemocratic” and do not fulfill her expectations. “We have (a hundred) political prisoners. Our candidates are in prison; thus, we do not have whom to elect,” she stressed.
“Alejandro,” 37, a professor, altered his Sunday routine for election day. He did not go to vote, but neither did he dare to travel to his native Carazo as he regularly does on weekends to avoid coming into conflict with the “FSLN operatives,” who were deployed mobilizing voters.
Voting represents “another discontent, a sentiment of repudiation towards the dictatorship and towards this system that oppresses us,” points out “Alejandro.” The fact of abstaining from voting “is one of the few spaces that we have left to tell the regime that we do not want them and that we do not want to play their game. We do not want them in power,” he emphasizes.
Similarly, “Raúl”, 50, a lawyer, did not vote. “None of the candidates that appear on the ballot”—he assures— generate “confidence.” He values that in the face of “an illegitimate election,” like the one that occurred on Sunday, “there is not much that can be done.” But Nicaraguan society must “become aware that any change that occurs” in the country “is our responsibility.”
Another way to protest: an invalid ballot
“Mambrú,” 55 years, currently unemployed, exercise her right to vote at 11:05 a.m. at the polling station located at the Manuel Olivares School, west of Managua. She voted “for safety” and to prevent her neighbors of the Sandinista Leadership Councils, who control the voting center, to engage in some kind of retaliation against her or her family.
Unfortunately, we are so controlled that we do not know what will happen after these elections,” warns the woman. Later, she questions herself: If you vote, are you in favor of the regime?” And she automatically reflects: “I don’t think so.” Because voting “is a citizen’s right,” although in the current context of Nicaragua it does not represents the power to elect. “Obviously it was not valid. I invalidated the ballot, but they are not going to take away my right to vote. I did my protest by invalidating, I don’t add, I subtract,” she emphasized.
Doña Vilma, 66 years old, went to mass to pray for Nicaragua. She assures that even though the electoral process is “a rip-off,” she has the right to elect because Nicaragua needs a change and that is why she voted. Meanwhile, the 57-year-old academic “Fenix” feels guilty seeing Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo govern. His return to power came after 16 years of liberal governments, during which time he worked from the neighborhoods to help consolidate his leadership.
This Sunday, professor “Fenix” monitored the development of the most questionable elections in recent Nicaraguan history from his computer. In the corridor of his house two Nicaraguan flags hang from a wall. He whispers to me that there are neighbors who are sympathetic to the Government, so we had to be careful to talk about why he did not vote on November 7.
He begins by clarifying that he is a “blue and white Sandinista,” a rare combination in a context of great polarization in Nicaragua. He believed in the Revolution, and he entered headfirst, and now, he assures that Nicaragua will be free through a peaceful struggle. “I did not go to vote because the process is a farce,” a “fraud and an electoral circus.”
“What the government needs is not for you to go, and scratch the ballot invalidating it, what the government needs is to see people moving in the streets. Whether you are going to vote or not going to vote, whether you mark invalidating or not, for the Government that is irrelevant because the decision has already been made (…) that is why we are at home. Everyone should stay at home,” said the academic.
“None of those interviewed by Confidencial has favorable expectations for the country after the flawed electoral process. The deepening of the economic crisis, unemployment and greater migration is the next scenario for Nicaragua while Ortega continues in power, they say. However, the main concern for teacher “Catalina” is that after the elections, the Government will “sweep away” dissident voices within the institutions.