Following a highly controlled electoral process, Nicaraguan ruler Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo announced their “victory” on November 8, with 75.92% of the votes. That result would make Ortega the most popular president in Latin America. The FSLN will also maintain its absolute majority in the legislature, with 75 of the 90 National Assembly seats.
The government polling firm M&R associates had predicted Ortega would get between 70 and 80% of the vote on Sunday November 7th, while Cid Gallup’s recent polls showed Ortega with only 19% of voter preference and losing handily to any of the jailed candidates. In a country where people are jailed for speaking out against the regime, neither poll could be considered accurate.
What’s certain is that Ortega and his FSLN party controlled all the election authorities, from the polling stations to the top officials. Further, the strongman and his wife/VP had been busy in recent months jailing incommunicado all the opposition candidates that posed a threat. The tiny parties allowed to run as “opposition” neither campaigned nor disclosed their platforms.
The ruling couple tried to keep the independent Nicaraguan press from directly covering the election, shuttering major media outlets, and harassing, jailing and forcing many reporters into exile. It also banned foreign media from entering the country. Only the official media, mostly run by Murillo and the duo’s children, were freely reporting before, on, and after election day.
In a campaign where the opposition had called on people to stay home, while the regime mustered the full weight of their state apparatus to get Nicaraguans to the polls, the key question became how many people actually cast ballots. Here, too, accounts differed radically.
On election day, independent observers saw empty polling places and very few lines to vote. They estimated an 81% voter abstention, a figure impossible to substantiate. What was clear to most was that the long lines to vote characteristic of the elections up to 2006 were hardly to be seen. Even many Ortega voters agreed with that assessment.
Meanwhile, Ortega-Murillo’s voting officials claimed that 65.23% of the registered voters went to cast their ballots.
Even Ortega’s close ally Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela only assigned himself 67.85 of the vote in 2018 when he ran essentially unopposed in 2018.
Cuba’s Miguel Diaz Canel, another backer of Ortega and his methods, was elected president by indirect vote of the Cuban parliament in 2019. He received 99.9% of the votes cast, the most of any leader on the continent.
As could be expected, reactions to Nicaragua’s November 7th election were totally reflective of political alliances. Ortega’s allies immediately praised his victory, while numerous others failed to recognize the vote as legitimate. Diario de Cuba compiled some of these statements including reports from EFE news service.
Support and Congratulations from Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and Bolivia
Cuban president Miguel Diaz Canel called Sunday’s elections in Nicaragua “a demonstration of sovereignty and civic spirit in the face of a cruel media campaign.”
Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro stated: “Good news has arrived from Nicaragua! There was a good level of participation in the elections today. The people voted in peace at the polling stations.” He added: “Voting in Nicaragua, like voting in Venezuela, is a step towards peace, stability, progress and the prosperity of our countries.”
Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov said the voting took place amid “unprecedented pressures” on the Nicaraguan authorities. He denounced the United States led campaign to not recognize the results.
The Bolivian government welcomed the “democratic volcano” in the Nicaraguan elections. In an official statement, “the Foreign Ministry praised the sister people of Nicaragua for their participation and democratic vocation in the electoral process.”
Former president Evo Morales added: “We praise the honorable Nicaraguan people that in a demonstration of democratic courage and maturity elected brother Daniel Ortega as their constitutional president, despite the campaign of lies, blackmail and threats from the United States.”
Other leaders questioned or condemned the vote
“Our forecasts for Nicaragua are uncertain,” said Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso. He added: “The position of Ecuador, in general terms, will be always to back democracy and the principles of freedom. Hopefully, Nicaragua can move in that direction.”
The Chilean Foreign Ministry issued a harsh statement, rejecting the elections and indicating Chile did not recognize their legitimacy. “They aim to perpetuate Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in power by consolidating a dictatorial regime.”
“The event was held in the context of serious human rights violations, imprisonment of opposition leaders and candidates, repression of independent parties, systematic persecution of civil society leaders and organizations, absence of international observers and a blockade of the media,” noted the document.
The Chilean Government called on the Ortega government to “unconditionally” release the political prisoners, as well as to “restore the validity of civil and political rights, authorize the entry of human rights organizations and end the harassment of the opposition.”
Costa Rica, which has taken in over a hundred thousand refugees from the neighboring country since 2018, announced after the closure of the polling stations that it does not recognize the electoral process in Nicaragua, due to the “absence of conditions and guarantees” required in a democracy to accredit the elections as transparent, credible, independent, free, fair and inclusive.
Joe Biden described them as “pantomime neither free, nor fair, and certainly not democratic”, after announcing that he will use “all the diplomatic and economic tools” at his disposal to demand responsibility, including the so-called Renacer law, to extend the sanctions on Nicaragua.
Biden urged the “Ortega-Murrillo regime” to “immediately” take the necessary steps to “restore” democracy and called for the imprisoned dissidents to be “immediately and unconditionally” released.
Meanwhile, the European Union said the re-election of Daniel Ortega lacks “legitimacy”, since the elections were held “without democratic guarantees”, thus completing the country’s conversion into an “autocratic regime.”
The high representative for EU Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, called on Ortega to release all political prisoners “immediately and unconditionally” and annul the legal proceedings against them.
The EU demanded that Ortega “return the sovereignty of Nicaragua to the people” and announced that it is considering “all the instruments at its disposal to take additional measures, including those that may go beyond individual restrictions.”
The United States, the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) had condemned, before the elections, the arrest of seven opposition presidential candidates, the elimination of three opposition political parties, the banning of electoral observation and the establishment of laws that restricted participation in the process.
Spain also joined the group of countries that openly criticize the elections in Nicaragua. Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares, declared on Monday that the vote “cannot be called elections” because “they have been a sham” and also demanded the release of opponents and journalists imprisoned in the Central American country.
The United Kingdom said that Ortega is dragging his country down the “tragic path of authoritarianism”. “The presidential election that took place in Nicaragua on November 7 was an election in name only. It was neither free nor fair,” reported the British Foreign Ministry.
The German government also criticized Sunday’s general elections for failing to meet minimum standards. “We call on the Nicaraguan government to return to the democratic process and immediately release political prisoners,” said Foreign Minister Andrea Sasse.
The Ortega government expressed defiance of outside condemnation
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said on Sunday that Daniel Ortega’s government is not afraid of the fact that members of the international community don’t recognize the general elections.
“We are not going to be intimidated by their threats, with their unilateral measures, with their sanctions, or their threats of not recognizing our elections,” declared the foreign minister in reference to the international community declarations mainly from the United States and European Union members.
Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s ruled for a single term as president during the 80s before losing in the 1990 elections. Following two subsequent failed presidential bids, he finally returned to office in 2007. He is the longest-serving leader in the Americas.
Only five little-known candidates from small parties allied to Ortega’s FSLN competed against him in the elections. The Electoral Council said that the turnout was 65%. Election observers from the EU and the Organization of American States (OAS) were not allowed to scrutinize the vote and journalists were barred from entering the country.
This article was originally published in Havana Times