Ortega’s One-Party State in Nicaragua

By eliminating the November elections, Ortega has accelerated his own crisis of legitimacy, in defiance of the national and international community.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The Ortega regime’s abrupt cancellation of the Citizens for Liberty (CxL) Party’s legal status automatically eliminates the presidential candidacy of Oscar Sobalvarro, the last aspiring opposition figure. With this gesture, Daniel Ortega essentially wiped the November 7th elections off the slate.They’ve now been transformed into a party vote for a single candidate.

Cattle rancher Oscar Sobalvarro, known in the 80s as Contra leader “Ruben”, was a last-minute candidate, after Ortega jailed seven other contenders for the CxL party nomination: Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, and Noel Vidaurre. The regime also imprisoned over 20 other political and civic leaders.

Since well before the annulment of CxL, the legality and legitimacy of the November 7th elections were already being seriously questioned. It became ever clearer that they’d be celebrated without political competition, in a police state that has curtailed all the democratic freedoms since the massacre of April 2018 and continues to hold 140 political prisoners.

Without national or international electoral observation, with the Supreme Electoral Council controlled by the Sandinista party; with an electoral counter-reform involving laws that criminalize the opposition and allow the inhibition of their candidates – there wasn’t the least guarantee of electoral transparency.

Nonetheless, some national sectors harbored the illusion that on election day the blue and white majority would come out en masse, to vote for the only opposition party that had remained on the ballot, no matter who their candidate was. They believed Nicaraguans would respond like that, in order to challenge Ortega, or at least unmask a huge fraud.

An alternative interpretation was that in the absence of electoral guarantees and a leadership capable of inspiring the hope of change, an important part of the electorate would spontaneously abstain from voting.  Meanwhile, CxL would participate under any and all conditions, in order to preserve their legal status and become the country’s second political force, with hopes of becoming Ortega’s future political counterpart.

Both conjectures were wiped out with the stroke of a pen this past Friday, August 6. With three months remaining until election day, Ortega eliminated the legal status of the CxL party. This means a one-party election in which he and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo will run for reelection with no serious contenders.

Now, the ballot will offer only the Sandinista Front and five collaborationist parties. The PLC (Liberal Constitutionalist party) has not only maintained a pact with Ortega, but was also the party that filed the request to eliminate the CxL. The PLI (Independent Liberal Party) is led by a group who essentially abducted the ballot space from the democratic opposition leadership in 2016. Aside from these, there’s Yatama, a regional indigenous party, and the remains of three other tiny parties: the ALN, APRE and the CCN.

In this way, Ortega has preempted the results of November 7, resulting in an early aggravation of his own reelection crisis, since he’ll run without political competition. It’s a reckless bet, that reveals his determination to govern with no political legitimacy. It represents an extreme hardening of the repressive strategy, in order to maintain his totalitarian regime in power. As such, it cries out for a proportional response, with a maximum of political diplomatic and economic pressure applied both nationally and internationally, to reestablish the road to a democratic transition that would very definitely be without Ortega and without Murillo.

It’s a life-or-death dare. In the first place. for Nicaraguan society who raised their demands for democratization and justice in the 2018 April Rebellion, and now find themselves stuck in the road. The main reason for this failure lies with the pitiless repression unleashed by the dictatorship. However, the errors of the opposition leadership also contributed. These should be examined self-critically, beginning with the decision to separate the electoral road from a permanent strategy for civic resistance. There was also the CxL’s political and ideological sectarianism that scorned the imperative need for national unity to mount more forceful pressure on the regime with participation from all sectors of the country.

A decapitated opposition leadership – with so many in prison or exile – must now pay the high price of that mistaken strategy of divorcing the elections from civic resistance. Meanwhile, the legal party status enjoyed by the CxL didn’t offer it any secure way to put the brakes on Ortega’s yearned-for project of a single party. In 2009, when he was just beginning to co-govern with the large business leaders, without democracy or transparency, Ortega first expressed his preference for the Cuban political model. During that year, he appeared on the Cuban television program “Round Table” and declared candidly: “multi-party politics divides the nation.”

With all doubts about the November 7 elections now dispelled, new questions about Nicaragua open up – questions that need a response now, without waiting for Ortega’s 2022 inauguration. Can the opposition rekindle the civic resistance, while demanding the liberation of all the political prisoners? Will the business class accept a one-party regime, with no political legitimacy? Will they accommodate to Ortega’s authoritarian rules, as they did before 2018, or will they impose effective democratic limits? What role will the moral leadership of the Catholic Church play?

And the public employees – both civilian and military – who are also Ortega’s hostages… Will they endorse the elimination of democratic elections?

On the other hand, the imposition of a one-party regime also creates a formidable challenge for the international community, from our Central American neighbors to the OAS, the UN, the United States and the European Union.

Will the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) continue financing Ortega’s regime, without democracy and with serious human rights violations? Will the OAS foreign ministers call a session to discuss applying the Inter-American Democratic Charter? Will Mexico and Argentina continue their policy of abstention? Can the United States, the European Union, and the UN coordinate multilateral actions that exert effective pressure to weaken the regime’s political and economic bases of support? Will the Vatican continue standing idly by in the face of the grave human rights violations? Or will they try and intercede, to prevent the normalization of violence?

External pressure, although essential, can never substitute for national political pressure. However, it will be more effective if exercised with determination starting now, when all of Nicaragua is being held hostage by the dictatorship. Meanwhile, this past August 6, Ortega’s one-party regime was inaugurated, and the countdown begins towards the country’s economic and social deterioration. This promises an ever more painful cost to the thousands of Nicaraguan families who have found themselves forced to emigrate in order to seek an alternative for their lives.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.