Today’s Nicaragua doesn’t offer even minimal conditions for holding credible elections. That’s the opinion expressed by Jennie Lincoln, the Carter Center’s senior advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean. She expressed this opinion during a May 21st virtual forum on “Nicaragua’s political landscape and prospects for democracy in 2021”.
The event was organized by the Seattle International Foundation and Florida International University. Speakers included Tiziano Breda, Central America Analyst for the International Crisis Group, and independent journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Chamorro directs the Confidencial news site, and the internet television news programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche.
“A genuinely democratic election should be held in an atmosphere that guarantees the participation of all the people. The fundamental principles the government must implement include: freedom of peaceful assembly and association; unrestricted freedom of mobilization; freedom of expression and opinion; access to information; security for all citizens; and access to justice. None of these conditions exist in Nicaragua today. None,” declared Lincoln. Jennie Lincoln participated in the Nicaraguan elections as an observer in 1990, 1996, and 2006.
“The conditions for holding an election are at risk. They’re not only at risk for the opposition candidates, but also for the voters to go to the polls and participate in the electoral administration. The Electoral Law in Nicaragua establishes many elements of participation and provides many guarantees. The question is: ‘How is this being implemented?’” Jennie Lincoln queried.
She added that if the elections were to take place next month, there wouldn’t be any possibility of international observation, according to international electoral standards. “International observation contributes to protecting Nicaraguans’ participation. Up until now, the Nicaraguan government has denied that as well,” she said.
The worst case scenario… just got worse
During his participation, Carlos Chamorro recalled the recent words of Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Almagro stated: “Nicaragua is headed for the worst possible election.” He spoke these words in reference to the lack of real electoral reform. Instead, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved “a counter-reform, whereby Ortega’s Sandinista Front tightened their control over the electoral system.”
That opinion was reinforced by the election of ten new Magistrates to Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council. All ten are considered, “totally loyal to [Daniel Ortega] who seeks reelection, and to the Sandinista Front.” The new heads of the Electoral Council are also in agreement with “the lack of liberties and of international observation, which the regime hasn’t authorized. They’ve once more introduced the concept of electoral ‘accompaniment’ [involving a diminished role for friendly observers] in the law,” summarized Chamorro.
“A week later, that “worst scenario” that Almagro described, is now much worse, and not only because the opposition is divided and fragmented. Last week, without any legal justification, the Supreme Electoral Council rescinded the Democratic Restoration Party’s (PRD) legal status, [as well as that of the Conservative party].” By agreement, the PRD’s ballot space was to be used by the National Coalition, an important opposition grouping. Thus, the government eliminated the electoral possibilities of an organization “that represents some of the aspirations and organizations that arose from the April 2018 protests.”
With that action, the regime has begun the de facto elimination of a group of presidential hopefuls: Felix Maradiaga, Miguel Mora, Luis Fley, George Hernandez, Maria Eugenia Alsono and Medardo Mairena. These candidates had expressed interest in competing for the Coalition’s and the PRDs presidential nomination.
The election “didn’t show any promise of transparency, or of being fair, or of trustworthy mechanisms for counting votes; now, it won’t be competitive either. The regime has already begun the process of excluding parties and candidates, in order to select who will participate in the November 7th election,” Chamorro explained.
As proof that the country has become a police state, presidential candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro have been put under de facto house arrest. There’s also an ongoing attempt to inhibit the candidacy of independent hopeful Cristiana Chamorro by using the criminal courts. A criminal accusation would strip her of her political rights.
“Despite this crisis, the reaction of the political leaders hasn’t been to call for abstention. There’s enormous concern and comprehension that abstention would favor the dictatorship,” Carlos F. Chamorro stated.
Nicaragua: Crisis, poverty and pandemic lead to further emigration
Tiziano Breda, of the International Crisis Group, pointed out some of the indirect effects of a fraudulent election. These include a possible new wave of protest and political conflict.
“The population’s demands are still there. The 2018 repression left another layer of pain, affliction and anger that could make things different this time around. A fraudulent election could give way to a new wave of protests, or some other way of manifesting discontent,” he predicted.
“The fragmentation of the opposition also feeds into the general disillusionment. This is palpable in talking with the population, and it also contributes to the lack of overt protests… Another five years of a blockade in international financing and highly diminished foreign investment would have serious repercussions on the fragile economy of one of the poorest countries on the continent. That, in turn, could have profound humanitarian consequences,” Breda added.
He continued describing these consequences: “Newly reactivated economic demands would lead to social protests, and could generate a new surge of emigration. That should concern Costa Rica, whose authorities are already saturated with the asylum requests that have poured in since 2018. It’s also a country experiencing a critical situation with the pandemic. Conditions could also lead other [Nicaraguans] to head north, to Mexico or the United States.”
A plea to fellow journalists: come and see
Previous Nicaraguan elections were subject to official international observation from the OAS, the European Union, the Carter Center or the UN. Given the lack of qualified international observation for this upcoming election, Carlos Chamorro advocated for the presence of the foreign press in Nicaragua. He wants them there “to tell the story of the police state. The story of the attempt to change a dictatorship by peaceful means, which seems to go against the current. It seems an impossible mission, but then suddenly there are windows and opportunities for producing those movements for change.”
The journalist considers “regrettable and worthy of censure the attitude of the Guatemalan and Honduran governments in the face of the human rights crisis in Nicaragua.”
He also pointed out the Nicaraguan government’s poor use of international aid funds. “Ironically, the tragedy of the pandemic and the natural disasters, has facilitated the flow of external resources to the government. The international community is concerned that these not be stolen, but obviously, they’re being used to strengthen the government’s general apparatus.”
Chamorro clarified: “I’m not questioning the humanitarian aid, but the lack of transparency. These are external resources that are being given to Nicaragua. As long as the money isn’t being directly stolen, the multilateral organization awarding the funds to the government don’t care if they’re hiding information, they don’t care if they lie.”