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Dubious elections in Nicaragua

Dubious elections in Nicaragua

America was not the only country to hold Presidential elections this November.

On the 6th November Daniel Ortega won the Nicaraguan Presidential election. Ortega was a leader of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), a socialist guerrilla party, who overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979. The FSLN wanted to restructure social relations in the country: after seizing power they formed a junta that set policy, headed by Ortega. The FSLN allowed some opposition groups and parties to exist during its regime, but were engaged in a civil war against the contras, a ‘counter-revolutionary’ force partly trained and funded by the CIA.

The FSLN held the first elections in 1984 to appease mounting domestic and international pressure and legitimise their regime. The FSLN won this election convincingly, partly due to an extremely divided opposition, and Daniel Ortega became President.

In the Presidential elections held in 1990, Daniel Ortega was defeated by Violeta Chamorro, the candidate for the National Opposition Union (UNO), a coalition of 14 opposition parties. This was a watershed moment in Nicaraguan politics: Ortega conceded defeat, which paved the way for a peaceful transfer of power. The reasons cited for this defeat of the FSLN was public weariness of war and economic depression. Chamorro was also personally popular. That said, the FSLN as they retained significant influence across Nicaragua.

Daniel Ortega contested the 1996 and 2001 elections unsuccessfully, but each time he continued to win a significant portion of the vote – 37% and 42% respectively. The Liberals won both of these elections (the UNO had divided soon after Chamorro’s election).

Ortega successfully contested the 2006 elections on a platform of ending the ‘savage capitalism’ of the conservative governments and moving away from his revolutionary ways, which gained him the support of Nicaragua’s poor. He implemented some reforms following his election but also oversaw a return to old FSLN ways: restrictions on the press, increasing the role of the military in civilian politics and an allegiance with Venezuela under Chavez. Despite this, he won the 2011 election. The Nicaraguan constitution dictates that Presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, but these limits were done away with in 2014 under pressure from Ortega, thus opening the path for him to win this month’s election. He won a landslide victory, with state media announcing he won 72.5% of the vote, 12.5% higher than in 2011.

His success in these elections illustrates the continuing support the FSLN receive from their core constituency due to the success of their policies for the poorer of society. His success also shows Ortega’s enduring personal popularity for the overthrow of the Somozas both within the FSLN and Nicaragua. However, these results should not be taken at face value. Ortega did not invite international observers, who would’ve guaranteed a democratic process. The Nicaraguan constitution does not allow family members of current Presidents to run in elections, but Ortega’s wife has just become his Vice-President and the Supreme Court has ruled that their ticket was not illegal. The same Supreme Court also removed Ortega’s main political foe, Eduardo Montealegre, as the liberal part’s leader, making it easier for Ortega to defeat his opposition. Many commentators predicted that Ortega would have won comfortably without this reckless behavior, but he undermined Nicaragua’s democracy anyway. It puts Donald Trump’s victory in perspective.


Featured Image Credit: Wikicommons

Allie Nawrat