1) The phantom of abstention
There were no surprises in the November 5th municipal elections in Nicaragua. Just as in last year’s Presidential election, the official polling places shone empty due to the massive abstention, even as the Supreme Electoral Council took great pains to declare another record level of participation, manipulating at whim the data regarding the voter roles.
In issuing the balance sheet for the day’s effort, Comandante Daniel Ortega admitted that – for now – abstention is the governing party’s principal electoral opponent and the greatest threat to its legitimacy. Ortega deceitfully associated this abstention with a supposed plan for “confrontation,” while in fact citizens turned to this form of peaceful protest to express their profound discomfort, demanding a change in the electoral system. But abstention, like the 40% of the citizenry who declare no party when surveyed, doesn’t constitute an active political force, nor does it have any life 24 hours after voting day. It merely represents a sense of the enormous potential for change that exists in the country, once we’ve achieved a system that truly guarantees free elections and political competition.
2) The threat of political violence
The post-election political violence that took six lives is the result of official intolerance in the face of the resistance that despite everything prevails in more than 20 of the country’s 153 municipalities. Since the 2008 municipal elections, when it was implanted in the municipalities through repression and fraud, the system of territorial control has been designed to govern without the existence of a belligerent opposition, at the same time annulling municipal autonomy. Consequently, any dynamic of political competition, however limited, generates government promoted violence in response, as a mechanism for social control.
In 2008, the police and paramilitary violence was centered in the principal cities of the Pacific region: Managua, Leon and Masaya, where the opposition were denied their chief electoral triumphs. Since 2011 and 2012, the political competition, now more reduced and disperse, is located in the municipalities of the North, Central and Atlantic regions of the country, the same ones in which political violence has broken out anew.
Hence, it’s not a matter of isolated incidents of violence, as the report of the OAS mission alleges with irresponsible frivolity, but a structural problem of the authoritarian regime that must be eradicated in order to permit competitive elections where power is really in play, without the threat of blackmail and violence.
3) The thug versus the Bishops’ moral force
President Ortega’s virulent attack on the most conspicuous voices of the Episcopal Conference reveals the moral bankruptcy of a regime that has utterly failed in its ambition to coopt and control the Catholic Church. Thus, the governing thug turns to his last resort – bullying – in his intent to divide the bishops between the “toughies” who represent the voice of the Church, and the clones of his “Founding father”, Cardinal Obando y Bravo, who speak for the regime.
Ortega isn’t unaware of the fact that in May 2014 the full body of the Episcopal Conference presented him with the document “In Search of New Horizons”, the most complete x-ray to date of his authoritarian system, proposing dialogue and reforms. He never dared to respond to this, as the Bishops reminded him on the eve of the recent municipal elections. From his position of power, he is now trying to break the will of the Bishops and submit them to his political terms.
The Episcopal Conference isn’t a political entity, but its example of independence in the face of power, and the integrity of its religious, social and pastoral reflections have unavoidable political implications. By personifying the attack as one on Silvio Baez, the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Ortega has merely confirmed the moral stature and national leadership of Bishop Baez.
4) The OAS seal of approval and 2021
As had been set up between the OAS and the government, the report of those who “accompanied” the elections evades the fundamental issue of FSLN party control over the electoral system. Instead, it suggests a broad list of technical recommendations to improve the process. The OAS has thus earned its passport to remain in Nicaragua until 2021, sealing the “clean slate” given to Ortega’s authoritarian swerve in 2016, when in one fell swoop he eliminated the opposition. With limited political competition and a tamed opposition, Ortega has also agreed to “enhance” the current dictatorial model, although he has warned donors to get their checkbooks ready, since he will be demanding a lot of money to finance the Supreme Electoral Council.
In this way, we begin to trace a crossroads in terms of the 2021 presidential elections. One road, that of the brightly painted dictatorship that Ortega is promoting to enthrone his dynasty, offers the economic elites the incentive of authoritarian stability to shelter the advantages of the corporate economy. However, in the long run, this road leads to crisis and instability deriving from the unsustainability of a regime whose strategic pillars lies in corruption, repression and bureaucratic centralization.
The alternative road derives from the premise that the country doesn’t need to “enhance” the Family-State-Party system, but to dismantle it, in order to promote a profound democratic reform. And that can only be possible as the result of a national movement of political and social pressure to reestablish the right to free and competitive elections, even at the price of the tension and instability that the regime’s intolerance and repression will bring about in the short run. It’s a longer and more hazardous road, but it’s the only one that can lead to lasting stability.
Translated by Habana Times