Nicaragua: Why There Was No Abstention in 1990

In the face of the sad new realities imposed by Ortega and Murillo, people respond with the only form of rebellion left: abstention

by Gioconda Belli  (Confidencial)

A polling place in Managua, empty of voters. Photo: Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – “What would have happened if they had opted to abstain from those [1990] elections, those who today promote confrontation and abstention, or abstention as the only alternative to confrontation? They wouldn’t have become the Government, as they managed to do in 1990…”   -Daniel Ortega in a speech delivered November 5, 2017

I quote these words from President Ortega, because it seems incredible to me that he would draw a parallel between the 1990 elections won by Violeta Chamorro and the last two electoral processes – the presidential elections of 2016 and the 2017 municipal ones. I ask myself: Is it possible that he’s lost all sense of reality in that way?

If the current government returned to holding elections as transparent and well observed as those of 1990; if a person of the human and moral quality of Mariano Fiallos Oyanguren were president of the Supreme Electoral Council; if the opposition hadn’t been decimated through political maneuvering and low blows; the population would have gone out to vote, despite the problems in the voting registration lists.

This is a people that in elections prior to the current ones, that are clearly ever more rigged by this Government, has participated massively in the process of electing their authorities. We like voting, we’ve learned that, yes, you can change situations with your vote. Also, as Ortega himself said and we agree, we don’t want any more wars, we don’t want armed confrontations like those that left five Nicaraguans dead this past week in these municipal elections.

The reasons for the abstention, and for which it will be ever more difficult to mobilize the population to participate in these civic campaigns, aren’t on account of the opposition leaders but are directly attributable to President Ortega and Vice President Murillo. They’ve taken it upon themselves to close off the electoral system in order to assure themselves that the trauma these two in particular experienced with the electoral defeat of 1990 won’t be repeated.

To understand what we’re facing, one of the factors that should be analyzed at a psychological level has to do with the fact that in 1990 the illusion created by the public squares full of people and the very distance from reality that the powerful often suffer from, made the entire FSLN – but above all their candidate – think that they would win the election. The possibility of losing was never considered. There wasn’t even a Plan B contemplating what to do in case of a defeat.

The voting results were a total, bitter surprise. Once the popular will had been expressed there was no way back. Firstly, because the electoral authority, although he was a Sandinista, was above all, honest. He wasn’t going to lend himself to denying or distorting reality.

Secondly, because with national and international observers watching over the process, it was practically impossible not to accept the popular will. For these reasons, the FSLN, in an act that will forever grant it a lofty place in our national history, agreed to turn over power on February 25, 1990.  I believe however, that the psychological blow of going from absolute certainty of popular support to clear proof that the people had elected Violeta Chamorro and not Daniel Ortega, left an indelible mark on the he who must have felt like the biggest loser.

Let’s also remember that for over 16 years Ortega lost one after another election, and that he won the 2006 one because he made a pact with Liberal party leader Arnoldo Aleman, and because Herty Lewites died. If Herty hadn’t died, Daniel would have lost even with the pact, since Herty would have siphoned off enough votes to keep him from reaching the thin plurality of 38% with which he won.

Gioconda Belli

The current electoral system has now been modified and designed to guarantee that no one except the FSLN can win, not only keeping the presidency but also conserving their majority in the National Assembly. It doesn’t matter that the electoral authorities have lost all prestige, it doesn’t matter that the regulations are violated. The end justifies the means according to the going philosophy.

The Nicaraguan people, in their immense wisdom, are clearly saying with their massive abstention that these electoral processes aren’t competitive or clean and that the results have been decided beforehand. Even the Sandinista grass-roots themselves are counting on the win. Why go out to vote, then, if the die has already been cast?

It’s very true that Nicaraguans love peace. The wounds of the war are still very fresh, and taking up arms still isn’t an option. So, in the face of these sad realities, people respond with the only form of rebellion left to them: abstention.

The new FSLN of Ortega may hold on to power, but they’ve lost the trust of the population. That’s what happens with a people as intelligent as this: you can’t pull the wool over their eyes.