Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 424 | Noviembre 2016



A new move on the game board: The voters’ massive “NO!”

Daniel Ortega came to his shoe-in reelection bid pressured on two flanks: On one the Organization of American States hit him with the Democratic Charter, and on the other the US House of Representatives threatened him with the Nica Act. On election day itself, a hoped-for but unexpected third flank opened: a massive “NO” by Nicaragua’s voters.

Envío team

The governing party was guaranteed a massive victory with no need for ballot fraud this time after having prohibited both national and international observation, cancelled the participation of the only opposition party with any real possibility of challenging incumbent President Daniel Ortega on election day and ensured that people answering to him, including the nominal adversaries allowed on the ballot, would manage all the voting tables in the country. The excluded opposition campaigned in favor of abstention, knowing it was an uphill battle given Nicaraguan’s normally high voter turnout. Yet the unexpected happened: there were no lines at the voting centers and the surrounding streets were empty. A majority of the country’s registered voters boycotted the elections, including a number of people who have always supported the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The official results,for what they’re worth

Ortega and his wife/running mate Rosario Murillo thus “won” a “landslide victory” on November 6 with only a reported minority of eligible voters turning out. Undaunted by all appearances to the contrary, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) reported a 68.2% turnout and only 31.8% abstention, employing some very tricky sleight of hand with the voter lists—explained as best he could by political scientist José Antonio Peraza in an interview in this issue.

The CSE’s official results for the presidential ballot were 72.5% for the FSLN, 15% for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), 4.5% for the “new” Independent Liberal Party (PLI), 4.3% for the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), 2.3% for the Conservatives and 1.4% for the Alliance for the Republic (APRE). In the legislative race (for 20 national seats and 70 seats distributed proportionally among the country’s 15 departments and 2 autonomous regions), the FSLN won 70 seats (up 7 from 2011), the PLC won 13 (up 11), the “new” PLI won 2 (down 25), the ALN won 2 (up from none), the Conservatives and APRE each won 1 (also up from none), and YATAMA, the regional indigenous party that ran in alliance with the FSLN in previous legislative elections, also won only 1 (down 1). In addition the FSLN and the PLC each got another seat, the latter for being the runner-up, and the former for the outgoing President (although aince the President isn’t outgoing in this case, his seat will be occupied by Omar Halleslevens, his outgoing Vice President). This gives Daniel Ortega an absolute majority plus nine in the National Assembly.

To achieve peace

The silent demonstration of repudiation explains more eloquently than any analysis what has happened in Nicaragua. But in brief, in 2008, 2011, 2012 and again this year, the FSLN has abused the mechanism of “free, pluralist and honest elections” agreed to in August 1987 at the regional peace talks in Esquipulas, Guatemala, to put an end to the civil wars ravaging Central America at the time. It now seems clear that what pushed the FSLN to sign that agreement was only the grinding war and the FSLN’s conviction it would win any election. That it attaches little or no importance to the representative democracy resulting from elections is also clear.

Everyone in Nicaragua knows or at least intuits the truth of that, some with more details than others. Whether from apathy, disgust, rebellion, dignity or conviction, or because they no longer believe in the tainted elections, didn’t feel motivated this time or agreed with the opposition that urged them not to vote, people massively declined to participate in these dishonest, rigged and virtually single-party elections that are so contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the agreement signed in Esquipulas.

Two unexpected protagonists

The elections took place in a unique context this year, not only because they had already been delegitimized by the incumbent candidate’s actions but also because of the presence of two unanticipated external “protagonists.” On September 21, after Ortega had already designed the elections to ensure his win without meeting any democratic standard, the US House of Representative approved legislation, which quickly came to be known as the Nica Act, that conditions US approval of any loans Nicaragua requests from the international financial institutions on Ortega holding free elections.

A month later the Organization of American States (OAS) appeared on the scene. On October 21 we learned from Rosario Murillo, for the past ten years the government spokesperson, that the OAS had sent the Nicaraguan government a report prepared by its secretary general Luis Almagro a week earlier “weighting the facts related to the electoral process.” Although Murillo didn’t reveal its content, it could only be that Ortega hasn’t complied with the Inter-American Democratic Charter signed by the Nicaraguan State.

She informed us that the government had received the report “with a willingness to work [with the OAS] at a table of conversation and constructive exchange” and had begun that “conversation” the previous day. She also said that the two parties would present the results in three months (January 20, 2017) in a joint report if consensus was reached and in separate reports otherwise.

“Respect the voices of your people”

The day those same talks were announced in the United States—two days before Murillo acknowledged them—State Department spokesperson John Kirby read a press statement expressing his government’s satisfaction that the OAS “will engage in dialogue with Nicaragua on its electoral process” and “urged” the Nicaraguan government to do so “in open and broadly inclusive discussions” about the elections. The statement added that “We continue to call on the Nicaraguan government to respect the voices of its people and to create a more open environment for free, fair, and transparent elections that allow the Nicaraguan people to determine the future of their country,” which seemed to imply the possibility that Ortega would suspend the November 6 elections.

On October 28 the Ortega government invited an OAS delegation to be “present” on November 5-7, apparently to give the impression that it would be “observing” the elections. Many recalled that this past June, acting on Ortega’s orders during the 46th OAS General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the OAS Denis Moncada Colindres had demanded that Almagro resign due to his interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs. “This repeated behavior of the OAS secretary general,” said Moncada, “disqualifies him to continue in his role and Nicaragua expects Secretary General Almagro to tender his irrevocable resignation to this plenary meeting today in the Dominican Republic in order to wash the stains and shame of the Organization of American States.”

Almagro clarified on Twitter that no official OAS delegation would observe the elections, but confirmed that he would personally be in Nicaragua those same days to talk with experts and others invited to the elections. During those three days, he and those in his entourage acted with total reserve, speaking to no reporters, either official or independent.

Thus it was that Daniel Ortega reached November 6, the day of his new reelection, hemmed in by the Nica Act and publicly declared as being open to dialogue with the OAS.

“I didn’t throw my vote away”

The opposition coalition deprived of its right to participate in the elections is divided into two newly named groups: the former Independent Liberal Party structures led by Eduardo Montealegre, which has renamed itself Citizens for Liberty (using the acronym CxL); and the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), which brings together national and local social organizations and is headed up by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

In August, the two groups united around a single goal: “Conscious and active abstention” in response to the “electoral farce.” They decided to demonstrate in various municipalities with a number of slogans reflecting that goal. The one that caught on most with the population was “Yo no boto mi voto” (I’m not throwing my vote away).

Then on October 10 the groups agreed to “unity in action” in Somoto. From that day forward they repeatedly announced they wouldn’t recognize the results of the November 6 voting. They led more than 46 marches and sit-ins around the country, to which the government responded with none of its customary repression and barely with any obstacles or intimidation. While not massive, the actions started to get their message across and the call to abstain was multiplied through social media messages and memes.

Hundreds of pro-abstention messages were voiced and written in the run-up to the elections, one of the most eloquent of which came from Azahálea Solís of the Autonomous Women’s Movement: “The two great milestones of Nicaragua’s recent history involved different solutions. In 1979 the way out was with weapons and in 1990 it was with votes. After so many struggles and efforts we’re again facing a historical dilemma, and this time we have neither weapons nor votes. We’ve consciously opted for civic struggle. Violence is not an essential element of being Nicaraguan. We want to engage the political and ideological dispute peacefully. For many years work was done all over the country through citizen’s participation in municipal and regional autonomy; administrative decentralization; reconciliation; peace; the rights of women, children and adolescents; sexual diversity; political advocacy and state-society dialogue. We’ve shown that we want a different country. If in 1979 the way out was via weapons and in 1990 it was via votes, in 2016 the individual will to form a collective expression is by preserving our vote and not giving it to the dictatorship to tamper with. Abstention is the way out.”

The FSLN feared abstention

After so many decisions had backfired on him, Ortega was well aware that huge abstention levels would end up calling his second reelection into question. The governing party structures went into overdrive to forestall that, concentrating their efforts on getting out the vote.

For weeks, FSLN activists went door to door zealously encouraging people to vote, promising them zinc roofing sheets for their homes and giving away lightbulbs, eggs and bananas. The emphasis was on ensuring long lines, not necessarily a vote for their party: “Vote null if you want to, but get out and vote.” Employees in ministries and public institutions were warned they would be sanctioned if they didn’t return to work with their thumb inked—proof that they had voted.

For its part, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) focused on figuring out how to conceal any sizeable abstention. On October 18, CSE President Roberto Rivas invited only the official media to a press conference to present the list the CSE would use on election day showing the total number of registered voters, a basic instrument to evaluate the transparency of the results of any election. Rivas actually presented four different lists, only three of which political scientist José Antonio Peraza was able to explain in envío’s interview with him. Another measure was to train the tens of thousands of electoral officials the governing party hired to run the more than 14,000 voting tables to process each voter as slowly as possible in an attempt to assure long lines at the voting centers.

Such anxiety didn’t jive with M&R’s successive polls, which reiterated a participation level exceeding 75%. Nor was it reflected in the declarations by Roberto Rivas, who in an interview with Telesur predicted that 80% would vote and that those urging people not to vote were only some “20 people who have influence in the State Department corridors.”

Knowing how important it would be to evaluate the levels of abstention, the organized opposition and two civil society organizations—Hagamos Demo¬cracia (Let’s Make Democracy) and a consortium calling itself the Panorama Electoral—announced that they were prepared to do a volunteer-based citizens’ observation of what happened in the voting sites around the country.

“Like on Good Friday”

On election day the “sound of silence” reigned from dawn on. In previous elections people began lining up at sunrise to be among the first to vote when the polls opened at 7 in the morning. Not this year. The streets were empty and no lines were seen along the sidewalks of voting centers in Managua, León, Matagalpa, Granada or other sizeable cities. “It’s like Good Friday,” several people were heard to comment.

Voting remained “lite” throughout the morning, with few people and no lines. The official TV reporters bent over backward to hide the minimal turnout, interviewing distinguished voters inside the schools and other buildings designated as voting centers. But every once in a while the camera would still be on as they walked outdoors and viewers caught a glimpse of schoolyards with only a handful of people standing around. In the few independent media that have survived, field reporters sounded genuinely surprised as they described the absence of people, which was even greater in rural areas. Although voters had been prohibited from taking photographs, young people bombarded the social media with hundreds of shots demonstrating the empty corridors of the voting centers.

“A lesson in civic responsibility”

Hours after the voting centers closed on Sunday, November 6, information and commentaries began to flood in from volunteer observers. The message was the same everywhere; massive abstention was the only relevant information, the only possible surprise as the results were a foregone conclusion.

The first to put numbers to it was the Broad Front for Democracy. Information from its “social audit” grid suggested that approximately 70% of voters had stayed away. In its proclamation that night, the FAD called the abstention level “unprecedented in Nicaraguan electoral history” and “a lesson in civic responsibility.” It refused to accept the results of such an electoral farce.

A little later the “observation commandos” of Citizens for Liberty spoke. According to its volunteer network, a first sampling of information gathered at 2 in the afternoon, four hours before the official closing time of the voting centers, suggested a possible 78% abstention. Two days later they were more specific: an average of 90 people voted in the urban polling sites and 50 in the rural ones, this in a voter list per polling site that cannot exceed 400 names.

A few days after that, Let’s Make Democracy calculated that 68% hadn’t voted. Panorama Electoral, in which the decades-old and highly professional national electoral observation organization Ethics and Transparency participated, was more conservative. It proffered no figure, concluding that “as no independent observer was accredited to witness the ballot count or vote tabulation, it is impossible to know if the official results reflect a correct and honest counting process or not. The same doubt hangs over any estimates of participation and abstention.”

No way did that happen

No one was surprised by the CSE’s claims of a 68.2% turnout—which would have meant that some 2.5 million people voted. But José Antonio Peraza, an expert in electoral statistics, concluded that for this to be true, “an average of 171 people would have had to have voted in each of the 14,581 voting tables across the country. That would mean 17 people voting every hour and one person entering the voting table and voting every four minutes, a process that would have to have been maintained throughout the day. That’s totally impossible. What we saw, what everyone saw, demonstrates that it didn’t happen.”

An astute and irrepressible people

The voting became a national plebiscite, with “NO” winning out symbolically over “YES,” although these two choices were obviously not on the ballot. Why did such a high percentage of the citizenry effectively vote “NO” by abstaining? Many of the wide range of reasons have to do with Nicaraguans’ way of being, others with the country’s history and unhealed wounds, and yet others with feelings that have been overflowing their consciousness. Starting the very next day we began hearing testimonies that allowed us to construct some of the varied profiles of the abstainers.

In general, behind all those “NOs” is a population as unruly as it is astute. They are heirs of the Güegüense, that incorrigible scamp from the 17th-century theater piece of the same name who knows how to figure the odds and chooses defensive paths with the fewest risks rather than confrontation if he feels at a disadvantage. This time, in the context of a subtle but ever stricter social control this government has been imposing for years, particularly on public employees, and in an election in which no one would be choosing anything or anybody, the majority opted for the safest path: not to submit, but also not to draw attention to themselves by rebelling; in other words, to stay home. One young woman, when tracked down and asked by a Sandi¬nista representative in her barrio why she hadn’t voted, just shrugged, claiming she had accidentally left her voter-ID card at the health clinic. What a shame, she was told; she should have come to the party office because they could have gotten her in to vote.

Why go vote? What for?

Nicaraguans aren’t stupid, and once they more or less got the lowdown on how these “elections” were all sewn up, they knew how to prepare for them. Now that radio signals reach the last bend in the mountains and cell phones are as common as machetes, everybody knew that no change could possibly come out of these elections. The general feeling was “Why waste my time if I already know what’s going to happen?” The government’s now familiar stratagems and elimination of any genuine competition pushed Nicaraguans’ deeply rooted independent self-interest ahead of the traditional sense of civic obligation to vote, and this ended up winning out over the governing party’s determined get-out-the-vote campaign.

A good number of voters, especially among the youth, are sick and tired of hearing the same speeches the past ten years that are constantly refuted by reality. This government, with its single rap, single thinking and single candidate, is out of tune with the times, which are full of stimuli, options and opinions. Despite the amount of money the business elite spent on publicity campaigns, focus groups, T-shirts and wall murals promoting the “youth vote” which has traditionally tended towards the FSLN, a lot of younger people now want a change and felt no motivation to spend any time voting if it wasn’t going to change anything.

Meanwhile, many adults who work for the government are fed up with and even humiliated by being obliged to go to meetings, activities and demonstrations in support of the governing party out of fear of losing their job, which is a common reprisal for disobedience.

Even those who don’t work for the government are tired of pretending to be “Sandinistas,” even sometimes having to accept an FSLN membership card, in order to be included in the government’s social programs and handouts of zinc roofing sheets and other goodies; to get a job; to be treated in health centers; to be eligible for a scholarship; even to get an ID card...

The most convinced

A quite sizable segment of the rural population involved in what called itself the Nicaraguan Resistance in the war of the eighties feels spied on, harassed and repressed by the Army and Police. The imposition of Sandinista hegemony following the fraudulent 2008 and 2012 municipal elections, which ended up assigning FSLN mayors in municipalities that had always voted Liberal, has triggered permanent repudiation of the Ortega government in extensive areas of inner Nicaragua. The “NO” from this population was born of conviction and fed by indignation. In these peasant areas, not voting had the added value of overcoming their fear and intimidation. It was there that the elections had the clearest quality of a plebiscite.

Their fear is not without reason. On the afternoon of election day itself, three peasants were found dead on a hill in the Magdalena district of the municipality of Ciudad Antigua, department of Nueva Segovia. While the Police claimed they had been killed in a drug transaction, the wife of one of the deceased, the daughter of another and Deputy Mayor Nelda Mendoza, the sister of the third, ss well as Mayor Henry Quiñónez all said the three had been the victims of political persecution for years for having belonged to the Resistance during the war of the 1980s. The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) conducted an investigation in the area, gathering information from relatives and neighbors. Based on the stab wounds and fractures on their bodies, CENIDH concluded they had been tortured and then summarily executed in a combined Army-Police operation. More than a thousand people attended their burial, demanding justice and an independent investigation. The funeral procession was preceded by the flags of Nicaragua and the FDN, the initials the contras used in the 1980s. Mayor Quiñónez referred to the “bloody elections” and tensions continued to mount in rural zones where politically motivated armed groups are operating.

Even Sandinistas

There was also a convinced and convincing “NO” among people who for a wide variety of ideological reasons sympathized with the National Coalition for Democracy, the political option Ortega blocked from running in the elections. While the new reincarnations of this group were the most active in mobilizing against the “farce” and the “electoral circus,” it would be wishful thinking to credit their joint campaign for the massive nature of the “NO” option. Nonetheless, their effort caught the country’s attention in the independent media, the streets and the social networks and garnered an important echo.

FSLN followers were the most qualitatively—if perhaps not numerically—significant group in the pluralist composition of those who abstained. As Peraza argues, such high abstention, allegedly at least two thirds of the eligible voters, would have been hard to achieve had Sandinistas turned out to vote in masse.

Did they stay home because they were sure “the comandante and the compañera” would win? Perhaps, although such indolence would itself indicate a demotivated and less “militant” militancy. Even some of the FSLN’s historical militants and their families decided not to vote. These are people who have voted for Daniel Ortega through thick and thin, seeing him as their true leader even when disagreeing with the FSLN’s drift since the revolutionary days when they and their party clearly stood for the same things. They have felt side-lined, disagree with Rosario Murillo’s vice presidential candidacy, seriously question many of the government’s actions and feel bereft of any channels for expressing it… except by abstention.

The FSLN’s powerful organizing machinery wasn’t as effective as on previous occasions and the election day “NO” could end up intensifying the tensions and contradictions that have been running through the circle of power for some time now. One can only hope that the party’s historical cadres demand an internal debate to reflect on what has happened during ten years in government to a once revolutionary party that has moved so far away from its principles; has abandoned peasants, indigenous peoples and other poor to their fate; has forgotten our migrants; and no longer represents the ideals of those who gave their life for a just and peaceful Nicaragua.

A new card in the game

Waking up on November 7, the day after the elections, one could feel that uncertainty that surprises always spark in the country. It was as if the population was bracing itself for the dropping of the other shoe.

That same afternoon the State Department issued this statement: “The United States is deeply concerned by the flawed presidential and legislative electoral process in Nicaragua, which precluded the possibility of a free and fair election on November 6…. We continue to press the Nicaraguan government to uphold democratic practices including press freedom and respect for universal human rights in Nicaragua, consistent with our countries’ shared obligations under the Inter-American Democratic Charter…. We will continue to work on behalf of the Nicaraguan people to achieve a more prosperous, secure, and democratic Nicaragua.”

No few observers had earlier found the apathy, scant protests and lack of response to the nation’s political crisis, particularly the absence of any massive mobilization against the government’s pre-electoral excesses, to be rather strange. But given what hap¬pened on November 6, they are being forced to rethink what’s really going on in Nicaragua. So will the ever-loyal solidarity organizations that still exist, unless of course they choose to believe the CSE figures.

A majority wants a change but fears conflict and sees no other force offering that change, so they acted by omission. The massive but silent shout of “NO” is a new element that needs to be added to the analysis of the national situation by those both inside and outside of Nicaragua; it’s a new card on the table of the difficult game being played in Nicaragua today.

Two big risks

The “NO” on November 6 left open many questions and risks. The greatest risk is that Ortega now knows how seriously his rule has been called into question, if he didn’t before. He knows the exact numbers and stratagems that were needed to paint the results in his favor. He now also undoubtedly knows, if he in fact didn’t before, that while granting free elections would pull the plug on the Nica Act and stop the OAS from continuing to pressure with the Democratic Charter, it would also risk not just his majority in the legislative branch, but his very continuation in power.

The other big risk would be tri¬umphalism by the opposition that worked the hardest to achieve such high abstention levels. It needs to seriously recognize that the massiveness of that option is a challenge to work together rather than relax and go back to disputing leadership among its component groups. This new moment is more one of learning than of stroking egos.

Transforming people’s lack of confidence in the electoral system expressed by that “NO” into confidence in their capacity to start demanding their rights from the government rather than being expected to be grateful for its “favors” requires commitment to a long effort to gradually construct a sense of citizenry. In this month’s Speaking Out section, Violeta Granera, vice presidential candidate of the coalition that Ortega prevented from running in the elections, speaks in greater detail about the risks and challenges the election results pose to both the opposition and the country as a whole and what the uncertain future requires of them.

Are we prepared?

Granera’s vision, like her very nature, is optimistic. But is Nicaragua prepared for what she proposes: a truly national agreement for a new free, competitive and observed electoral process followed by prioritizing a quality educational system, modernizing the country’s productive structure, restoring the deteriorated environment, adequately dealing with the challenges of climate change and establishing a tax system to ensure equity and social justice?

The question is complex and the answers uncertain. Two days after our own elections, just when those most enthused by the massive “NO” were just beginning to formulate an answer, the world was plunged into even greater uncertainty with the news that the next President of the only remaining superpower will be the erratic-at-best Donald Trump.

What will Trump do with Central America, with Nicaragua? Will he prioritize confrontation with Mexico and forget about us? Opinions are divided between those who think he will and those who believe he’ll have to focus much more on the most hardline Republicans’ “enemies,” including Ortega’s Nicaragua. Only time will tell.

The dialogue with the OAS

We don’t know what Trump will do, but it’s unquestionably the most pressing question of the year’s end for Nicaragua. In January, at roughly the same time as Trump takes over the White House and we begin to learn whether he will actually do everything he said, we’ll also know how far Ortega was willing to go in his “constructive exchange” with the OAS.

The general consensus is that Ortega agreed to those “talks” to buy time, delaying definitive approval of the Nica Act. But doing so was also an implicit recognition that he’s in trouble, particularly with his Venezuelan “sponsor,” Nicolás Maduro, in crisis. In this situation he had no other choice than to talk to Almagro, the same man he called “a servant of the Yankees” last year.

What does the OAS expect to get out of the talks? We don’t know and no one’s saying, but it’s positive that a dialogue is taking place with an international protagonist and has a finite three-month deadline.

Although we also know nothing about the report Ortega will be “dia¬loging” about, we at least know that had it been favorable to the government, it would have been published word for word. We also know that it could only contain a contrasting of the events that have taken place in the country with the juridical instruments the OAS works with. The core of those instruments is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted by a special session of the OAS General Assembly held in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, and signed by all the member States, Nicaragua included. In that Charter, the holding of “free and fair” elections is the pivot of an entire complex political-juridical armature that guarantees the validity of democratic governments in the region.

The Charter was first invoked in April 2002 in response to the attempted coup d’état against Venezuela’s President Chávez, when 19 heads of State, who were holding a summit for another purpose, referred to it to condemn the attempted takeover. It was again invoked in June 2009 by US President Obama regarding yet another coup attempt, that time successful, against Honduras’ President Mel Zelaya, with Obama expressing his belief that it was in violation of the Charter. And it was most recently invoked this past May 19 by Venezuela’s opposition-dominated National Assembly, which requested that Almagro apply it to the Maduro government. At the end of that same month Almagro did in fact call an emergency meeting of the OAS to discuss the request, drawing strong criticism from Ortega and various leftwing countries in the region.

Will Ortega trip over the same stone?

What happens in the talks with the OAS will depend largely on President Ortega. Víctor Hugo Tinoco, Nicaragua’s vice minister for foreign affairs in the eighties, called on his experience in that post to analyze the OAS negotiations in an interview with journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro on his nightly TV news program “Esta Noche.”

Tinoco only sees two possibilities: “One, that Ortega acts seriously and holds new elections; and two, that he takes advantage of the OAS talks only to buy time and hope they don’t approve the Nica Act. If he chooses the latter, he’ll trip over the same stone the revolution did.” In 1981, he explained, a US delegate suggested that Nicaragua hold free elections, which Tinoco believes would have avoided the war. In 1983 Tinoco presided over talks with a Reagan administration negotiator in Manzanillo, Mexico, who “urged the same: hold free elections and avoid getting close to the USSR. “We should have held free elections in 1984. That year’s elections weren’t free: Ortega won and continued the war, which peaked the following year. The situation today is similar to what happened at the end of the 1980s, when the USSR, Nicaragua’s main underpinning, was weakened. Now the same is happening with Venezuela. If Daniel Ortega doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity with the OAS the result will be more economic crisis and armed violence in rural zones.”

What will Ortega do?

If Daniel Ortega were a responsible statesman he would choose to repeat the general elections. New free, transparent, competitive and observed elections held as soon as possible after an in-depth reform of the entire electoral system would settle the problem and initiate the country’s institutional renovation. This is what the opposition that Ortega excluded from the elections is calling for, and also what the business sectors would like to see, although they don’t yet dare say so openly.

It’s hard to imagine Ortega conceding that. Assuming he doesn’t, it opens the way for two other scenarios. The first is Ortega publicly accepting the OAS requirement for the next elections, then applying his custom of “you may make me sign, but you’ll never make me comply” when it comes to actually conducting a sweeping reform. The other is that he doesn’t even accept the idea, at most agreeing only to superficial, cosmetic changes. In both scenarios, the national crisis will only continue to worsen.

Reelected without a legitimate mandate

One analysis delivered to a group of businesspeople by a respected apologist for the FSLN prior to November 6 warned that a country as fragile as Nicaragua wouldn’t be able to withstand another “upheaval.” The upheaval he referred to was not the possible reaction to such uncontested elections, but rather what would result from not accepting their results. Presumably he had in mind Ortega’s ultimate trump card: the ability to call Sandinista militants and even the youth gang members he has wooed over the years out into the streets as an economically costly show of disruptive force, much as he did at the beginning of Violeta Chamorro’s presidency and following the 2008 municipal elections. The countervailing considerations against such a scenario are persuasive for all actors, as the specter of Nicaragua joining Central America’s three violent Northern Triangle countries, with Ortega turning his back on cooperation with the United States on migration and drug control issues, is not one anybody likes to contemplate.

This year concluded with a situation very different from the one we imagined when it began. We went from assuming we would have unclean elections in which Ortega would be reelected without much problem, to seeing him challenged by the Nica Act, questioned by the OAS and with a new card on the game table: the massive “NO” from the Nicaraguan people.

Because it was so massive, that “NO” upset the “electoral liturgy” the regime had prepared, questioned the “legitimacy of origin” of Daniel Ortega’s powers in his third consecutive term, revealed the results of what the same analyst generously called Ortega’s “lack of courtesy” toward the proper aspects of electoral legality and legitimacy, and cast doubt on the effectiveness of the model he and his wife plan to impose for the next five years. It has been an authentic “upheaval.”


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