Free Elections: a Plebiscite to Defeat Nicaragua’s Dictatorship

A man demands free elections. Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

First, the coalition and territorial organization, the program and fighting strategy to achieve electoral reform, and lastly, the candidates.

By Carlos F.Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The most resounding achievement of the April Rebellion, so far, is to have asserted civic protests as the predominant means of struggle to achieve political change and, at the same time, defeat the dictatorship strategy that sought to undermine the national claim for justice and democracy as a civil war between two armed groups.

After the massacre perpetrated between April and July 2018, Ortega failed to convince with his narrative of an alleged coup d’état to justify the repression and could not impose the military option on the Blue and White opposition either. In spite of prison, exile and persecution under a police state of siege, the opposition never conceived the armed struggle as an option and remains united and firm in that the solution to dismantle the dictatorship is political and democratic and lies in the electoral path.

The only credible election that can be held in Nicaragua today resembles a plebiscite between two options: dictatorship or democracy; more Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, or a democratic political change to dismantle the dictatorship and to get the country out of the state of economic and social stagnation.

In order to get this plebiscite-election, a sine-qua-non condition is to tear off from the dictatorship an electoral reform that would allow a free and competitive election with national and international observation. This would also imply the release of political prisoners and the cessation of the police state, to return to citizens the power of the vote with freedom of expression and mobilization.

Under those circumstances, it doesn’t matter how many collaborationist parties obtain the favor of the dictatorship and if there would be ten or fifteen boxes on the electoral ballot to try to divide the vote, because in the end the electorate will opt for two options: the FSLN of Ortega, and the opposition coalition, if it finally unites around the banners of the April Rebellion and its program of democratic change with justice without impunity.

After three presidential periods under the State-party-family system, Ortega’s institutional dictatorship collapsed into a bloody dictatorship. Consequently, this would not be a “normal” election to elect a president, but to decide a change of political regime.

Voters would be called to vote, not for the charisma of a candidate and their ideological preferences, but to decide on the continuity of the dictatorship or political change. A change to dismantle the structures of the dictatorship and initiate a democratic transition that will lead to lasting reforms that, in order to consolidate, will require at least several periods of government.

Between the democratic aspirations of the majorities and the crisis of the dictatorship, there are no intermediate options or possible third tracks. Therefore, the unity of the opposition is imperative to resolve the crisis of the regime unequivocally, with the guarantee of achieving a qualified political majority in a free election.

The leadership of the Civic Alliance and the National Unity has convoked the creation of a National Coalition, without exclusions, between the new Blue and White political majority, non-collaborationist parties and other unorganized social sectors, around a democratic program of change, dismantling of the dictatorship, and national reconstruction.

The point of departure is not to choose a “saint that will lead the procession,” as Emilio Alvarez Montalvan used to say, referring to the old caudillo strongman political tradition, but to respond to the new demands of the citizens movement: organization, political leadership and a fighting strategy, to put an end to the Ortega-Murillo regime.

The selection of candidates for president, vice-president, deputies, mayors and council-people presupposes the eradication of cronyism and backroom deals through internal elections, with legitimacy and transparency. However, this is not the first but the last step in the political sequence of this exit strategy. First, the coalition and the territorial organization, then the program and the fighting strategy, and lastly, the candidates.

The dictator Daniel Ortega himself has understood better than many the plebiscitary nature of this election that the FSLN considers lost already, to the extent that in these 21 months of national crisis he has never accepted to debate an electoral reform, nor is he willing to negotiate “in good terms” a reform that allows for free and competitive elections.

The dictatorship will only yield a true electoral reform under an extreme situation of political crisis, as a result of the maximum national and international pressure exerted, which would take away from Ortega the power of political decision.

It cannot be predetermined, therefore, if this negotiation —the third and final chance—, will be, with or without, Ortega and Murillo in power. But as the university student Lesther Aleman declared in the first national dialogue, the negotiation amounts to the political surrender of the dictatorship.

The political outcome of the negotiation and the ultimate content of the electoral reform will depend on the pressure that the Coalition’s fighting strategy unleashes, to add new forces and weaken the political and economic support of the regime.

First, the political pressure that the Coalition could generate when organizing itself in the 153 municipalities of the country, and its ability to connect the demand for free elections, with the effects of the economic and social crisis that overwhelms all the sectors of the country —with more poverty and unemployment, more taxes, and the reduction of subsidies—, in the third consecutive year of economic recession.

But, in addition, it is necessary to add mass mobilization: of people in the neighborhoods, students, merchants, producers and peasants, together with the pressure of the business chambers and big business, to put a final limit to the dictatorship. The civic resistance of public servants, and the public commitment of the Nicaraguan Army not to endorse electoral fraud, are also essential to create better conditions for electoral reform.

The combination of national civic pressure, diplomatic condemnation and international sanctions will depend if in the next months there are or not conditions to clear the path of electoral reform.

The biggest challenge of the leaders of the rising Coalition is not to make a formal declaration of unity on February 25, but to design and execute an effective political strategy to change the balance of forces and weaken the police state. Meanwhile, political inaction and an eventual division of the opposition, represent the main ally of the dictatorship and the greatest danger to democracy.

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