Elections took place in Nicaragua on 6 November for the presidency, National Assembly and Nicaraguan members of the Central American parliament. The result was a landslide victory for the Sandinistas with over 60 per cent of the vote in both presidential and National Assembly elections.
What were the results of the presidential elections?
FSLN-led “United Nicaragua Will triumph” Alliance: Daniel Ortega 62.66%; PLC (Constitutionalist Liberal Party Alliance): Arnoldo Alemán 5.67%; PLI (Independent Liberal Party Alliance): Fabio Gadea 30.13%.
What were the results of the National Assembly elections?
These followed a similar pattern to those for the presidency. This means that the FSLN will have 62 seats, the PLI alliance 25, and the PLC six. The FSLN will have sufficient seats to pass legislation including changes to the constitution without support from other parties. What was the turn out? The head of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) Roberto Rivas announced that the voter turnout was between 78% and 80%. This reflects the political awareness of Nicaraguans, the huge number of young people who voted for the first time, and the value Nicaraguans place on the significance of their votes. As blogger John Perry explains, ‘Voting is seen as a patriotic duty and not to vote is shameful.’
Why did the Sandinistas win so convincingly?
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti which means that around 50% of the population live in poverty. Economic stability and extensive social programmes have had a widespread impact on those excluded and ignored by previous governments. It is logical that over 60% of the electorate should have voted for a party that has succeeded in improving their lives.
Despite the global recession, the government’s economic policies and higher prices on the world market for Nicaragua’s exports resulted in economic growth in 2010 of 4.5%. In the same period exports rose by 32%. In 2011 the economy is on track for 4% growth and has received record amounts of foreign investment. The government’s economic programmes include incentives for national and foreign investment particularly in the Free Trade Zones, infrastructure projects and agro-industry to ensure that more stages in food processing can be undertaken in Nicaragua. The volume of exports to existing markets – the US, Canada, other Central America countries and Mexico – has increased. Most significantly, trade with Venezuela as part of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) has risen from US$2m in 2006 to $248m in 2010.
In addition, ‘Nicaragua has benefited from the most ingenious innovation in development financing of the 21st Century’ according to presidential advisor Paul Oquist. Venezuela sells oil to Nicaragua at market prices. However, 50% of the value of the oil is converted into a 25 year loan at 2% interest. Nicaragua invests this money in infrastructural projects – roads, energy – and social and economic development programmes. The other 50%, that Nicaragua has to pay in 90 days, can be paid in cash or in the export of meat, sugar, coffee and beans. ALBA funded social programmes that have benefited hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans include projects for rural development, housing, micro credit for women, bonuses for low paid state sector workers, subsidised transport, electricity and food. Sixty-five thousand Nicaraguans have benefited from free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors. Health care and education are now free to all. The much improved transport infrastructure, power generation and electrification programmes have benefited all Nicaraguans.
The comments of Vallejos Urbina and Gseñia Salazar Mora reflect some of the reasons for the Sandinista landslide. Vellejos who lives in an informal squatter settlement in Managua stated: “What we want is that the government prioritizes our houses, our streets, our communities.” Her family is one of the 136,000 families that have benefited from a government land titles programmes which will mean access to public services. Gseñia cited Liberals who voted for Daniel Ortega: “My mother and father have always been Liberals. But my mother received an interestfree loan from the government to start a small business and a free cataract operation. These are big things, and she voted for Daniel because she feels appreciative.”
How have opposition parties reacted?
The day after the elections Fabio Gadea, the PLI Alliance presidential candidate stated “We cannot accept the results presented by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) because they do not reflect the will of the people … We will not recognize the results of this fraud of enormous proportions.” Opposition civil society groups such as Ethics and Transparency, the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), and others complained about the alleged illegitimacy of Daniel Ortega’s candidacy, “the manipulation of the voter lists, discrimination in the issuing of voter cards, lack of transparency, and refusal to accredit observers”… The PLI and some civil society groups have called on people to take to the streets in protest. In response, there have been localised protests some of which have turned into violent clashes between PLI and Sandinista supporters resulting in four deaths – three PLI and one Sandinista – and injuries to 47 police officers. However, most Nicaraguans have returned to their everyday lives.
What are the preliminary findings of observer delegations?
Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA): Forty observers spent two months in Nicaragua prior to the elections during which time they visited 95 out of the 153 municipalities. Head of the delegation Nicanor Moscoso stated that the high number of observers and witnesses from all parties participating in the elections and the care taken by election officials in polling stations guaranteed the security of the vote. Moscoso pointed out that the process is laid down in the electoral law and this is what happened in practice. He went on to state, “you have the constant presence of party scrutineers at all stages, something that I haven’t seen in other Latin America countries.”…You have self regulation and we have been fortunate to accompany this experience.”
European Union: On 9 November the head of the EU delegation Luis Yáñez issued a preliminary report which listed concerns about the transparency and competency of Nicaragua’s the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). While acknowledging that the election itself passed peacefully the delegation complained that the whole process was directed by authorities who are not independent and did not ensure transparency for all parties.” However, Yáñez went on “Fraud is saying the person who lost won and the person who won lost. In this case, it is beyond doubt that the Sandinista Front and Mr Ortega won the elections.” The CSE responded by accusing Yáñez of defending PLI presidential candidate Fabio Gadea and being “provocative and disrespectful to the people of Nicaragua.”
The Organisation of American States (OAS) noted that “in spite of predictions about tensions and acts of violence, the maturity of the Nicaraguan people and their vocation for peace” marked the conduct of the elections. “In Nicaragua democracy and peace advanced.” The OAS noted that Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza had called Daniel Ortega to congratulate him on “the maturity shown by Nicaraguans during the process.” The communiqué continued, “The accompaniment mission has expressed to the authorities the need to guarantee that a mission has the security to carry out its work without any difficulty.” The mission stated that they had received complaints from various political organisations about irregularities that would be noted in the final report.
What has the reaction been from the US? Even before the elections, former US ambassador to Nicaragua Robert Callahan writing for the ultra right Heritage Foundation stated “the US should be prepared to challenge the legitimacy of the elections and potentially cut future economic assistance” and “vote against loans to Nicaragua from international lending institutions.” Callahan was the right hand man to John Negroponte, US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. Negroponte was responsible for running illegal military operations to oust the Sandinistas. The US has no ambassador in Nicaragua because the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has blocked an Obama appointee, Jonathan Farrar, because of his criticisms of Cuban dissidents in his previous post. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concerns about whether the elections were transparent and free of intimidation, violence and harassment.
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign 15/11/11