Abstention or void ballots?
By Arlen Cerda (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – With less than eighty days to go before the November 6 elections, there’s almost no electoral propaganda on the streets of Managua and the country’s principal cities. Even the official propaganda, which has been a permanent fixture during the ten years of Comandante Daniel Ortega’s rule, is sparser than at other times. Beside the main roadways, the giant pink billboards have lost their original glow.
The social networks, thermometers of tendencies in public opinion, are also relatively inactive, except for party accounts and those of some of its members. There are no debates on conflicting platforms for governing or competition among candidates looking to obtain office.
An opinion survey that a team from Confidencial carried out in the capital city and the “Esta Semana” [this week] television news program confirmed that outside the ranks of the government party’s sympathizers, Nicaraguans view the current electoral process with indifference and few expectations. The majority of them don’t feel the ambiance of an electoral season or party competition; they’re unaware of any platforms and don’t know who the candidates are for president and vice president, or for the seats in the National Assembly or Central American Parliament. The only ones that the majority can identify are Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, the presidential formula for the governing Sandinista Front (FSLN).
“There’s no campaign, there are no elections”
Political analyst Oscar René Vargas sees no electoral campaign nor does he believe there’ll be one.
“In 1984 there was a fair-sized electoral campaign; in 1990, the campaign was of supreme importance everywhere. The 2006 campaign was also an important one; that is, people were active. “Now you don’t see this.”
According to Vargas, the citizens’ apathy towards the electoral process is reflected in the everyday and family surroundings.
“Today, one goes to a meeting or gets together with someone from their family circle, and the conversation might revolve even around the topic of corruption, but there’s very little talk about the elections and who’s going to win (…) you don’t see billboards like in other elections. They’re absent. The population also feels that there’s no electoral campaign, which is to say there are no elections,” he affirmed.
Over the next seventy-five days, the political parties should be giving their all in hopes of an electoral victory, but lawyer and academic Carlos Tunnermann sustains that the current process isn’t a normal election, or even – really – an election at all.
“What we’re going to have on November 6th is the simulation of an election, because the winner has already been defined, as well as who will occupy the legislative seats allotted to the satellite parties,” Tummerman commented.
Murillo: “This is a unique campaign”
They smile, they dance and they sing. Dozens of young people star in an FSLN campaign video released last Friday. “We’re going together, always with the Frente, with this gigantic love, gigantic love from our hearts,” goes part of the song that the kids are dancing to in a plaza covered with colored streamers in the city of León. The video runs for 3 minutes and 50 seconds but the presidential couple only appears for five seconds.
Vargas affirms that Ortega “has been on the campaign trail for ten years” and there’ll be no avalanche of political propaganda for the current campaign as there was with other elections.
Murillo, Ortega’s wife, official government spokesperson and now a candidate for vice president and thus first in Ortega’s line of succession, published the strategy for official propaganda last Saturday, August 9.
“This is a unique campaign, because we’re not involved in immature or irrational counter-positioning or whimsical opposition,” Murillo affirmed in the document that defines the FSLN as “the firm opposition to selfishness, and to all forms of verbal, psychological and physical violence.”
Opposition: Abstention and the null vote
This week, representatives from the National Coalition for Democracy – the chief opposition group that was excluded from the electoral process through a judicial ruling that took away their legal right to represent the Independent Liberal Party – declared the next elections “absolutely null and void,” called for massive electoral abstention, and demanded a new electoral process that would be inclusive, just and transparent.
“We are issuing a patriotic call to every Nicaraguan citizen to reject this corrupt and illegitimate electoral process by making use of our right to abstain from voting… a conscious and active abstention as a legitimate and democratic response to slow the destruction of the Republic and the negation of our most elementary democratic rights,” the Coalition stated in a document.
The “Group of 27”, made up of Nicaraguan intellectuals and political activists, also insisted that “there’s no one to vote for,” and argued that abstention is not an electoral offense, but a citizen’s right.
“We’re not calling for the traditional form of abstention. We’re calling for active abstention. What does that mean? That every Nicaraguan should know what they have to do on election day: whatever their conscience tells them, in order to say “no” to this regime that ridicules us,” explained Edipcia Dubón, a member of the group and an alternate deputy who was ousted from the National Assembly together with the other 27 deputies elected under the PLI party ticket in 2011.
Other sectors allege that abstention immobilizes the population, and instead propose turning in void ballots.
“I know that there are sectors that have called for abstention, but it seems to me that by definition abstention is passive,” stated Mónica López Baltodano, president of the PopolNa Foundation. “I believe,” she added, “that the call for a protest vote is a militant, civic and participatory call.”
Dubón responded that the opposition can’t continue to “play” at being the second political force or wait for the “distribution” of legislative seats which is what he feels the elections represent for the five parties that will appear on the ballot together with the FSLN.
The opposition also asked Luis Almagro, General Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), “to present without delay a report on the political situation in Nicaragua in accordance with article 20 of the OAS Democratic Charter.”
The Movement for Nicaragua has called for a “Blue and White Walk” to be held in Masaya on August 27. The walk is to condemn the current electoral process, invite citizens not to vote and to demand new inclusive and transparent elections. This is the first call for civic protest of the electoral campaign that began last Saturday.