Nicaraguan Elections: Roberto Rivas Makes Light of the Uproar

The Carter Center came, saw, and left

By Arlen Cerda & Alvaro Navarro  (Confidencial)

Robert Rivas, head of the Supreme Electoral Council. Photo/Confidencial
The opposition will maintain their demand in the streets for free and transparent elections, a demand that was downplayed by CSE president Roberto Rivas. Photo/Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Neither the official call for elections nor any sign of a transparent electoral process has appeared on the horizon. With less than eight months to go for the national elections, scheduled for November 6 according to the Nicaraguan Electoral Law, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) has yet to officially convene the elections or publish a concrete calendar of electoral activities.

The incorporation of its two new magistrates, both with a clear affinity for the governing party, has also disappointed those who were hopefully awaiting signs of a revamped electoral system. Nonetheless, the opposition isn’t waiting for the elections with arms crossed, and several political analysts see this as the best attitude.

In a parallel development, radio station owner Fabio Gadea Mantilla, the opposition candidate for the presidency who denounced the 2011 national elections as fraudulent, is once again being named as candidate for an opposition alliance that could challenge the Sandinista Front in the ballot box.

MRS and PLI push Gadea’s candidacy

Last Sunday, the National Council of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) asked Gadea to accept their nomination as presidential candidate for this alliance. Days later, the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) assured that Gadea is also their chosen candidate for the presidency, together with Luis Callejas, currently a National Assembly representative as the VP.

Fabio Gadea Mantilla.Director de Radio Corporacion. LA PRENSA/Maynor Valenzuela
Fabio Gadea Mantilla. Director de Radio Corporacion. Foto: Maynor Valenzuela/La Prensa

Gadea, 84, responded via a brief declaration disseminated through his radio station’s website. In it, he stated that he hasn’t yet made a decision about the proposal and insisted that his principal objective is to achieve a great unity of the opposition parties, “to go all together,” into the elections.

“Despite my age, I’d do it out of love for Nicaragua, because I want this country to recover, I want to leave this country on the road towards a democratic, Christian and honest system,” Gadea told Confidencial in an interview published last year.

Nevertheless, Gadea has also stated that his decision hinges on the existence of a free and transparent electoral process. “To go into the elections with the current Electoral Council is to go in to lose; it means going in only to win their favor (referring to the FSLN and the CSE) – so that they might let you have a few deputies,” he affirmed.

Gabriel Alvarez, a political analyst and expert attorney on Constitutional Law, feels that the selection of Norma Moreno Silva and Mayra Salinas Uriarte as the new electoral magistrates was a clear sign that Ortega is moving in the opposite direction from free and transparent elections that could “revive” the electorate’s trust. Both Moreno and Salinas were proposed by Ortega and ratified by the FSLN-controlled National Assembly.

Rivas downplays the importance of election observation

The PLI has opted to conclude their registration process for candidates for deputy this coming Friday, March 18. In past national elections, the Supreme Electoral Council had already received the registration of the alliances and political parties with their respective presidential formulas by this date. Nonetheless, Roberto Rivas Reyes, president of the Council, denied last Thursday that there had been any delays in the electoral activities.

Rivas refused to explain why his office hasn’t officially announced the presidential and legislative elections, and didn’t offer any information as to when the official notice might be issued. “Since the elections haven’t been convened, there isn’t any electoral activity beyond what happens in the media,” he said while attending the official event in which Cardinal Miguel Obando Y Bravo – his political godfather – was named a national hero.

The Electoral Law doesn’t set a date to convene the elections, although the CSE has generally done so one year prior to the day of voting. Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time that the call has been delayed. The 2012 municipal elections were convened on April 26 of that year.

“The timelines established in the law allow us to decide when we should officially announce the elections; it’s never been tied to a certain date.   Simply, there’s a lawful timeline that must be respected and we will do so, fulfilling that lawful timeline,” Rivas insisted, evading the demands of the opposition political parties that have been waiting for the call to elections since November of last year.

The electoral magistrate also didn’t respond as to whether the Nicaraguan electoral council would open the doors to independent national or international elections observation to give the process transparency, as distinct sectors of the country are demanding. The participation of independent national election observers was forbidden in 2011 and international observation was restricted. Polls carried out by polling firms M & R and Cid Gallup both found that over 70% of the population, including a majority of FSLN sympathizers, demand that the right to independent electoral observation be reinstated.

But Rivas downplays the national clamor. “I believe that it corresponds to the Nicaraguan people to observe the elections; nevertheless the last word is never spoken in these things. I think it’s not the moment to speak about observation,” the magistrate assessed.

Rivas gave little importance to the protests of political parties and organizations of civil society that gather each Wednesday in the area around the Supreme Electoral Council to demand free and transparent elections, and who’ve been the object of police repression. “Maybe you should ask the citizens who’ve been affected every Wednesday there by those supposed protests of 40 or 60 people,” Rivas said in a mocking tone, without making any reference to the protesters’ demands.

Unchanged with the Carter Center

Meanwhile, a delegation from the US-based Carter Center met this week with all sectors of the country: officials, the opposition, the private sector and civil society. The group was headed by Jennie K. Lincoln, director of the Carter Center Americas Program, who indicated that the goal of her visit was to “get acquainted with the reality of the country and its electoral process.”

In 2011 the Carter Center was not invited by the government to observe the elections. For their part, the organization also felt that conditions didn’t exist for realizing an electoral observation in accordance with the international standards for transparency.

Upon concluding their current exploratory mission to Managua, the group met with electoral magistrates Roberto Rivas and Lumberto Campbell, but no change was produced in the official position.

In 2014, following the reelection of the majority of the magistrates that make up the CSE, with Rivas at the head, the Carter Center expressed its concern and condemnation of the situation.

“This decision” – it stated at that time – “constitutes the significant loss of an opportunity to strengthen the battered electoral institutions of the country.”