President Daniel Ortega, wins the presidential elections for the third consecutive time. Without opposition, and alongside him his wife Rosario Murillo. A foregone victory. Low turnout. Criticism from the Catholic Church.
Ruben Dario Square, dedicated to the great Nicaraguan writer, one o’clock in the afternoon, a few minutes after the electoral council has announced the victory of Daniel Ortega, candidate of the Fronte Sandinista as president of Nicaragua, few party sympathizers to celebrate. People passing close by look at them in an almost indifferent manner. “There is little to celebrate – says Antonio Navas, economics student – it was already known that President Ortega would win”. For Maria de Lourdes Azevedo, an office worker. “I’ve seen so much apathy. People didn’t know who to vote for. Life goes on. The Ortega family will continue to govern and do business”. On 6 November last the general elections were held. Voters were asked to choose the president and vice-president, 92 members of the National Assembly and 20 Nicaraguan representatives to the Central American Parliament. Voters were more than 3 million 800 thousand. Six presidential candidates. The political parties were 16. It is the seventh election since 1979, when the Somoza dictatorship was defeated.
The results were quite predictable given that Ortega had no real competition. In 2014, with the control of the Sandinista Front of the House, the constitution was changed to allow an unlimited number of presidential terms and in June this year the Supreme Court, also controlled by the government, took the controversial decision to exclude Eduardo Montealegre from the elections, leader of the opposition and of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the main opponent of the current president, Daniel Ortega.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) got 72.5% of the votes followed by 15% for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); with 4.5% for the Independent Liberal Party (PLI); 4.3% for the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), 2.3% for the Conservative Party (PC), and finally 1.4% for the Alliance for the Republic (APRE). The Fronte Sandinista obtained 70 seats out of 92 in the National Assembly. There was a strong dispute over voter turnout. For the Electoral Council 68.2% of eligible voters voted. The opposition and civil society organizations speak of an abstention of around 70%.
Luis Callejas, the coordinator of ‘Citizens for Freedom’ considers that the voting results with a high number of abstentions sends a strong message to Ortega: “people are tired of farces, of frauds, and want free, transparent elections”. According to this organization’s monitoring, abstention exceeded 70%.
For Violetta Granera, national coordinator of the Broad Front for Democracy: “This is the biggest abstention ever in the elections of the last thirty years. It’s a clear answer to this electoral farce”.
Observers say that Ortega’s popularity (around 70%) and that of his party can be attributed above all to the social and economic developments of the country: lower poverty levels and better access to education and social services. Growth has been steady at around 4.5% over the past 12 years. And for 2017, the International Monetary Fund expects growth of around 6%, the second highest among all the countries of Central America. Surpassed only by Panama. Inflation also was controlled at around 3%. Civil society organizations point out, however, that this development has not been similarly met throughout the country. More than 60 percent of rural areas still register, in fact, extreme poverty levels, with indigenous peoples and Afro-American groups among those most affected.
From the point of view of security, Nicaragua is considered among the safest in Central America. The rate of killings in the country is about 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Guatemala, 39.9; El Salvador, 41.2 and Honduras, 90.4.
Another element of strength in the Ortega government is its strategic alliance with the major economic groups in the country. For Daniel Suchar Zomer, an economic analyst, “the entrepreneurs of Nicaragua have decided to use an ‘alliance of Silence’, a financial economic truce, while awaiting a new political protagonist who is able to change the economic landscape, with more advantages and opportunities. For now they are with the Ortega family, which in a few years has become one of the richest in the country”.
The church, a critical voice
The Catholic Church remains one of the most critical voices of the Ortega government. On the election day itself, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Mgr. Silvio José Bàez, during the homily celebrated in the Carmen church in Managua said: “This electoral process is the child of a flawed system. In conscience I can not lend myself to be part of this game that does not respect the will of the people and brings nothing of good to Nicaragua”.
Mgr. Baez continued calling this electoral process “unconstitutional, authoritarian and undemocratic”. “May my prophetic voice, – the Auxiliary Bishop continued – my being close to the poor, my life of austerity be elements of strength so that this country can move forward in social justice, and respect for human rights and the fact that today I did not go to vote encourages me even more to work for the future of our country”.
“I did not campaign against abstention. Failure to vote is an even bigger commitment. Today I commit myself along with the people of Nicaragua to build a better country as a citizen and as a bishop”, Msgr. Bàaez concluded.
Along the same lines, the bishop of Estelì, in the north of the country, Mgr. Juan Abelardo Mata, after the mass in the cathedral said he would not go to vote, “because I believe that this electoral process is illegal and will not bring any development to our country”.
For the Archbishop of Granada, Msgr. Jorge Solòzano, “the abstention of the people is a clear sign of lack of credibility in the Electoral Council. I’ve seen people disheartened, sad, apathetic because they don’t have anyone to elect. They had no possibility of choice. These signals must be taken into consideration”.
Msgr. Carlos Enrque Herrera, Bishop of Jinotega, president of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference said, “Everyone can see that it was not a transparent process, the participation was minimal. People thought that everything had already been programmed, so why go to vote”.
The Cardinal of Managua, instead, went to the polls. After voting he said that the elections and dialogue are important to change things. But dialogue is important if you know how to listen. In May 2014, the bishops delivered a letter to Ortega which among other things demanded a transparent electoral process and one open to national and international observation. Ortega did not reply, let alone answer to electoral transparency requirements. (C.C.)