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Satellite parties in Nicaragua: accomplices of Daniel Ortega’s electoral farce

Five “satellite” parties complete the electoral ballot designed by the FSLN, after the opposition was imprisoned and political competition eliminated

In the electoral ballot for upcoming November 7, the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) will be accompanied by five political parties, but none of them has the intention of competing, nor the capacity to dispute the power of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Their only role, agree opponents and analysts, is to contribute with the FSLN to pretend the “normality” of a multiparty electoral process, despite the lack of guarantees and political competition. They play the role of “zancudos”, a Spanish word for mosquito, but which is also used in Nicaraguan political culture to describe satellite or collaborationist parties. 

The satellite parties  usually appear during electoral periods, and never have the real intention of challenging the party in power. Their role in politics is to cooperate with the governing party so that it continues in power, and to settle for reimbursements, minimal quotas and irrelevant positions at the expense of the public treasury. Hence, they are compared to a “blood sucking” insect. 

On May 4, the regime ensured the “prize” for the satellite parties,  approving an electoral reform that eliminated the requirement of obtaining a minimum of 4% of the votes to access the reimbursement for campaign expenses that the Electoral Power used to authorize a posteriori. Thus, just by appearing on the ballot, their share of the treasury is guaranteed, regardless of how many votes they receive.

With seven presidential aspiring candidates imprisoned, and with the opposition imprisoned, persecuted, exiled or silenced in the face of the intensification of the de facto police state, imposed after the citizen protests of 2018, Daniel Ortega is running for his fourth consecutive presidential term, and second term in formula with his wife, spokeswoman and vice president, Rosario Murillo.

None of the seven presidential aspirants held as political prisoners by the regime will be on the ballot, nor will there be any opposition party. Together with the FSLN, Nicaraguans will only see the five political parties allowed by Ortega to register, after the cancellation of the legal status of the Conservative Party (PC), the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD), and Citizens for Liberty (CxL).

The ballot with six ballot boxes will try to make it appear that there is a diversity of political options, but the trajectory of these five parties, their minimal electoral volume,and their practically unknown candidates, confirms that there will be no political competition. 

The PLC and its candidate Walter Espinoza 

The Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) registered for the November 7 elections with an unknown presidential candidate. The PLC was once controlled by former President Arnoldo Alemán, with whom Ortega made a pact at the end of the nineties to share control of the powers of the State, now under absolute control of the FSLN. 

Walter Espinoza, 41, has climbed the PLC ranks over the past 26 years and has quietly toured public institutions over the past decade. He began as a member of the PLC’s liberal youth in 1995 and was a chauffeur for a party official. Later, he became president of District V of Managua and then councilor of the capital’s commune. During the national elections in 2016, Espinoza, who currently heads the PLC’s list of candidates, was the second candidate for departmental deputy for Managua, obtaining a seat in the National Assembly, where he has stood out for being one of the closest to the current president of the PLC, María Haydée Osuna.

Espinoza’s designation as PLC candidate was part of a political spider’s web. First, he registered in the primary elections of his party, but he declined his nomination.Two weeks later, on August 6, he accompanied Osuna to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to request the cancellation of the legal status of the Citizens for Liberty (CxL) party, considered the last vehicle for the Nicaraguan opposition. 

This action by Osuna and Espinoza allowed the justification of the cancellation of CxL in the competition. That same day, the CSE cancelled the political party’s legal status, and its president Carmella Rogers, known as Kitty Monterrey, was stripped of her Nicaraguan nationality. A wave of shock came over the PLC. Hours later, the elected presidential candidate, Milton Arcia, resigned his candidacy as a protest action and the following day Osuna registered Espinoza’s candidacy before the CSE.

According to the questioned results of the CSE in the 2016 voting, the PLC is the party with the greatest political wealth, after it was granted 15% of the votes on that ballot in which Ortega was reelected for the third time with 72.44%.

The CCN of Guillermo Osorno

Reverend Guillermo Osorno, presidential candidate for the Nicaraguan Christian Path (CCN)

party, is a recognized political chameleon. The first time his photograph appeared on an electoral ballot was in the 1996 general elections, a year after founding his own party.

In these 26 years of political office – that there are records of – Osorno was an ally of the PLC, when it was led by former President Arnoldo Alemán. In 201,  he crossed the sidewalk towards the FSLN, with which he remained allied during the last decade, after which he now reappears to run as an independent candidate.

Osorno, who obtained 4.09% of the vote during his 1996 presidential candidacy, is the best known presidential candidate among the five complicit parties on the ballot.

Throughout his political career, he has been a deputy in the National Assembly and is currently a deputy to the Central American Parliament. I​​n 2009, Osorno was involved in a corruption scandal alleged to have diverted one and a half million córdobas from the General Budget of the Republic to two NGOs run by his relatives the church “Centro de Adoración Familiar” and the National Network for Funding Churches Association (Asociación Red Nacional para la Fundación de Iglesias; Renafunic).

Osorno and his party are seldom in the news, but on August 2, when he registered his candidacy before the electoral tribunal, the reverend caused a stir in the media and social networks, by admitting his son’s candidacy and also complaining about the lack of financing for his electoral campaign, taking the opportunity to publicly request a loan of one million -he did not specify whether cordobas or dollars- because “we lose a lot (of money) just on election day, with the issue of taxes”, he said. 

So far, those distant elections of 1996, in which Osorno obtained 4.09% of the vote, are the only ones in which the CCN party participated alone, showing a minimum electoral flow, based on the followers of evangelical churches. In 2001 and 2006, CCN joined the PLC, and in 2012 and 2016 it allied with the FSLN.

The ALN and Marcelo Montiel

The presidential candidate of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), Marcelo Montiel, is not only an unknown figure, but he is also not interested in ceasing to be so. 

On August 2, when he arrived to register before the CSE together with his running mate Jennifer Espinoza, a group of media was waiting to interview them, but both fled from the cameras. The president of the party, Alejandro Mejía Ferreti, justified: “We will answer many questions in due time, the party will pronounce itself after this situation”. A month later, that has not happened. 

Although Montiel is unknown in the Nicaraguan political sphere, his party, the ALN, had its glory days in the 2006 national elections, when it was the box chosen by former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre to compete against Ortega. According to the CSE results, the ALN and Montealegre lost the election, but became the second political force in the country with 29% of the votes. However, two years later, the same electoral tribunal, then headed by Roberto Rivas, took away the legal status of the ALN from Montealegre and gave it to Eliseo Núñez Hernández.

In the following two national elections, the ALN had Reverend Saturnino Cerrato (who would later become founder and president of the PRD) as presidential candidate. In 2011, he obtained 0.40% and in 2016 4.3% of the votes. In both elections, it was denounced that the ALN’s electoral line was occupied by Sandinista militants. Currently, the party has two deputies in the National Assembly: the president of the party, Alejandro Mejía Ferreti and Mauricio Orúe, who is now the presidential candidate of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), another of the five complicit parties competing on the ballot. 

APRE and Gerson Gutiérrez Gasparín

A pleasant conversation was enough for the president of the Alianza por la República (Apre) party, Carlos Canales, to decide that his presidential candidate would be Gerson Gutiérrez Gasparín, a 29 year old from a community of Terrabona, in Matagalpa, with no political experience or followers to back his nomination.

However, Gutiérrez Gasparín likes the media attention, although he gets nervous in front of the cameras and exaggerates his body language. On August 2, at the registration parade before the CSE, he was mocked on social networks for his last name Gasparín, which brought to mind the “friendly ghost” of an animated US TV series from the nineties. Being an unknown candidate, his last name was joked about given this “ghost” characteristic. The following day, a photograph circulated in social networks showing a person resembling him wearing a T-shirt with FSLN propaganda, and many people thought it was him. The issue was clarified hours later, but on August 9, Canales’ party published a communiqué threatening to take legal action against the media which, it believes, “defamed and stained” the party’s reputation. 

In an interview with the media Nicaragua Investiga, Gutiérrez Gasparín, warned that he is not an Apre militant and that the first time he arrived at the party’s offices was last July 13, since an acquaintance of his wanted to introduce him to Canales. “We were talking to the engineer, and then he called me and told me that I would be a good element, that I should participate with him”, he said. Three weeks later, he was already a candidate for president.

Apre was founded in 2004 by liberal and conservative dissidents under the government of Enrique Bolaños, in rejection of the pact between Alemán and Ortega. However, during more than five years in which Apre has been represented by Canales, the party accumulated a record of collaboration with caudillos and characters of dubious reputation. Such is the case of Byron Jerez, former general director of Revenue in the government of Alemán, convicted for corruption, who under the Apre box got a national deputation in 2016, when the party obtained 1.4% of the votes, and almost always votes in favor of FSLN proposals.

The PLI and Mauricio Orúe

The presidential candidate of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), Mauricio Orúe, 53, is part of the deputies whose visas were revoked by the US Government, because they are considered “complicit in undermining Nicaragua’s democracy”. 

The legislator ventured into politics by using a group of evangelicals, who joined the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) in 2015, as a stepping stone to participate in the 2016 national elections, in which Reverend Saturnino Cerrato was presidential candidate and Orúe occupied the first place on the list of candidates for departmental deputies for Managua. Thus he reached the National Assembly, and five years later appears in representation of the PLI.

Orúe’s rapprochement with the PLI took place in the parliament, when the PLI-ALN bench was formed. The legislator told journalists, who attended his registration before the CSE, that his candidacy arose as a joke with his bench colleagues, who told him that he was a good presidential candidate for the 2021 elections. “With the April crisis (2018) and the latest events (he said without specifying the events he was referring to), we started talking more seriously,” he added. 

The PLI reached its peak in the 2011 presidential elections, with the leadership of Eduardo Montealegre and the radio entrepreneur, Fabio Gadea Mantilla, as candidate for president, obtaining 31% of the votes and positioning itself as the second political force in the country. However, in the months prior to the 2016 elections, the Supreme Court of Justice stripped the legal status of the members of this party and gave them to a group of FSLN allies, to whom the CSE gave 4.51% of the votes to grant it two deputies in the National Assembly.

With the change of leadership in the PLI, in 2016, Orteguismo removed the political competition of those votes from its path, and five years later buried it again.

This artile was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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