Nicaragua’s Nov. 6 Municipal Elections are the “Worst Ever”

Sample of the indelible ink used in the 2022 municipal elections. Photo: Electoral Council

Elections expert Leandro Querido offers three reasons why Daniel Ortega is bothering to conduct municipal elections, although only he can “win”.

By Ivan Olivares (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The farcical municipal elections organized by the Ortega-Murillo regime won’t solve any of Nicaragua’s problems. The process lacks all credibility, nor will it really serve to elect anyone. The outcome was already determined weeks ago in the El Carmen presidential residence. This is the concerted opinion of three experts on electoral matters that were consulted by Urnas Abiertas [“Open Ballot Boxes”] Citizens’ Observatory.

“These are the worst elections in Nicaragua’s history, because people will be going to the polls with a rifle aimed at their chests, and also with the dictatorship’s clear intention to maintain full power through blood and fire,” declared human rights advocate Haydee Castillo, an observer with the monitoring group Panorama Electoral.

On Sunday, November 6, the most lackluster “electoral campaign” in the country’s history will come to a close with the casting of ballots. The over 27,000 candidates in the wings to assume 6,000 open positions had only 20 days to go out on the streets and make themselves known to the voters left on the voting rolls. At the same time, over 1.3 million people were wiped from these rolls, noted Olga Valle, director of the independent monitoring group Urnas Abiertas.

Both Haydee Castillo and Olga Valle expressed their points of view in an online event organized by Urnas Abiertas. They were joined by Eliseo Nuñez, attorney, former deputy and Liberal party politician, and also by the executive director of the organization Transparencia Electoral [“Electoral Transparency”], Leandro Querido.

Nuñez coincided with the other presenters in declaring that “in Nicaragua, the system has completely collapsed.” He echoed their uncertainty whether the Sandinista Front that currently governs Nicaragua will maintain the current scheme of representing itself as the dominant party surrounded by bit players, or whether it will declare a “single party” model. One indication of the eventual answer will be how many mayoralties it assigns itself on Sunday.

“I have no doubt that the Sandinistas will declare a clean sweep of 90% of the City Halls. That would demonstrate that they continue in the game of being the dominating party. However, if they assign themselves 100%, it’s because they’ve now decided to move towards being the single party,” he specified.

“The Sandinista Front doesn’t possess the conditions for being a sole party, because it’s not even a political party,” Castillo added.

Why spend money on an electoral farce?

The panel members agreed that “the elections in Nicaragua offer no type of guarantees”. On the contrary, noted professor and political scientist Leandro Querido, they’re “a reverse example of what we know of as elections with integrity, and that’s not just now. There’s been a process of deterioration and assaults against democracy that began in 2007,” when Daniel Ortega assumed power.

The process has included expelling elected deputies, an outrageous system of political prisoners, media censorship, the dismantling and cancellation of opposition political parties, and coopting electoral arbitrators. All of these maneuvers are common to populist regimes, but in the last few years Ortega has also successfully promoted spurious laws to persecute anyone whose views diverge from the official line.

“The opposition can’t compete” in these “elections” because there are notorious tactical barriers blocking them. As illustration, Nicaragua has dropped 20 places in the Democracy Index published every year by the British weekly news site The Economist, and today it’s in 140th place among some 167 nations scored. “There’s no Rule of Law anymore, or division of powers. An elite has ‘taken over’ the government, and the electoral power is an extension of the executive branch,” Querido detailed.

This panorama is completely discouraging for those who still see elections as an opportunity to begin resolving the political crisis that is suffocating Nicaragua. Leandro Querido wondered out loud why a totalitarian regime such as that of Ortega and Murillo would bother to hold “elections”, since no one except themselves can “win”.

He sees three reasons for this. First, to show the international community that – democratically or not – he controls the political power at will. Second, to put the party machinery to use. Finally, third, to reward the loyal and conduct some internal purges, in a scenario which is nearly a one-party system.

“In democracy, elections with integrity produce legitimate results. However, in Nicaragua, with no guarantees, whatever comes out of that “election” isn’t legitimate. It has more to do with abuse, arrogance, domination, and will only serve to maintain the deepening political conflict, because these “elections” won’t resolve anything,” he reiterated.

The results of this Sunday’s exercise “is an illegitimate product, rejected by the bulk of Nicaraguan society. The high abstention rate during the last electoral processes showed how isolated Ortega is. He maintains himself in power only through the violence exercised by the state and para-state. The international community should understand that Ortega is outside the Law,” said Querido.

The violence also touched Ortega’s ardent followers

In a report published on Friday, November 4, Urnas Abiertas counted 709 different instances of political violence and seven detentions in four departments during the week preceding the elections (October 28 – November 4). Meanwhile, Haydee Castillo, president of the now-outlawed Leadership Institute of Las Segovias recalled that elections are only legitimate if the people’s will serves as the basis of political power, and is determined through universal and secret suffrage, under conditions of equality for all.

Instead of that, the regime’s accomplices have been threatening the citizens, telling them that if they don’t go out to vote, they won’t be allowed to receive services from the government entities. “This process destroys freedom completely. If, in 2021, the OAS declared that the presidential elections weren’t legitimate, now a new farce has been mounted with the coercion of all the State powers, which are also illegitimate,” Castillo declared.

Castillo was referring to the fact that all the political processes of the last few years have been full of violence and killings. However, up until a few years ago, the victims of this aggressive policy were those who opposed the regime. Now, not even their acolytes are safe.

Olga Valle noted that up until a few months ago, there were Sandinista militants who were hoping to form part of the Sandinista Front’s generational change of guard. However, when the party announced its candidates, there were few changes: in 118 of Nicaragua’s 153 municipalities, the incumbents were renamed. This caused some discontent within the party, which then jailed some of its sympathizers who protested the lack of changes.

“This is the culmination of a process that began in 2018, aimed at imposing a dynastic dictatorship with absolute power, where ungovernability, political polarization and anarchy predominate, because the population no longer trusts the security forces, and there’s no more balance of powers. The social order and tissue have been completely ravaged, which impacts everyday life. They’ve destroyed the life plans of the youth in the universities, and these former students are now doing anything they can to survive in exile,” Castillo stated in illustration.

She further observed: “In Nicaragua there’s no legitimately constituted government. The municipalities are no longer governed by mayors or city council members, but by the Sandinista Front’s political secretary, who in turn follows the orders dictated by the presidential couple.” Meanwhile, the government employees are forced to commit crimes in exchange for their salaries, and a system of denouncing one’s relatives and neighbors has been strengthened.

The impact of all this on the everyday lives of Nicaraguans is “extremely serious. If today, November 5, Nicaragua is sunk in chaos and presents unsustainable levels of poverty, with this new electoral farce, we Nicas will be left in worse conditions,” Haydee Castillo predicted.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times