Nicaragua Elections 6 November 2011
After 16 years of neoliberal governments, the Sandinistas (FSLN) returned to power in 2007 with the election of Daniel Ortega as president. The next elections will take place on 6 November for the Presidency, the National Assembly and the Nicaraguan members of the Central American Parliament.
What has the Sandinista government achieved in the past four years?
Despite the global recession, the economic policies of the government and higher prices on the world market for Nicaragua’s exports have resulted in economic growth of 3-4% annually. This policy includes providing incentives for national and foreign capital to invest particularly in the Free Trade Zones, infrastructure projects and agro-industry to ensure that more stages in food processing can be undertaken in Nicaragua so that the country receives the benefit of the value added. 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 increased from US$2m in 2006 to $248m in 2010.
Funds from ALBA, the IMF and Inter American Development Bank have enabled the government to invest heavily in transport infrastructure and energy. This has had a considerable impact on rural areas, especially in remote areas neglected by previous governments. These include free health care and education and ALBA funded programmes for rural development, housing, micro credit for women, bonuses for low paid public workers, subsidised transport and food, and the first ever census of people with disabilities. Sixty-five thousand Nicaraguans have benefited from free
eye operations carried out by Cuba doctors. No previous government has ever attempted to address the problems of extreme poverty to this extent.
Accusations levelled against the government by some civil society organisations and opposition parties include: the stifling of political debate, the domination of the FSLN over state institutions including the judiciary, the paternalistic implementation of some ALBA programmes, instances of political appointees in social programmes who are insufficiently qualified, and the failure of the government to reverse the 2006 ban on therapeutic abortion.
What are the main parties that will be standing and who are their candidates?
Why is the candidature of Daniel Ortega controversial?
A constitutional amendment approved in 1995, and supported by the opposition FSLN at the time, prohibits the president and mayors from serving two consecutive terms or more than two terms in total. This would have prevented two -time president Daniel Ortega ever running for the presidency again. However, in 2010, Ortega and 110 mayors challenged this clause as a violation of their rights as citizens, a similar manoeuvre to that which enabled Oscar Arias to stand again in presidential elections in Costa Rica.
An amendment to remove all limits on re-election was rejected by the Nicaraguan National Assembly but upheld by the Supreme Court.
Why has the FSLN chosen a military figure as vice presidential candidate?
Vice presidential candidate, Omar Halleslevens, a former FSLN guerrilla and founder of the Nicaraguan Army, was head of the armed forces 2005 – 2010. During this time he was consistently one of the most popular public figures in Nicaragua, second only to the head of the National Police, Aminta Granera.
Unlike in other Central American countries, the military in Nicaragua was, and is, highly regarded by the public as the most trustworthy public institution in the country. Although Halleslevens is very much within the Sandinista party he is seen as a figure who symbolises national unity.
If the elections happened tomorrow which party would be the likely winner? The most recent poll carried out by CID Gallup in August indicated that 41% of respondents would vote for Daniel Ortega, 34% Fabio Gadea, and 11% for Arnoldo Aleman. 14% were undecided. This would mean that Ortega would win re-election without a runoff because he would have more than 35% of the vote and have a five point advantage over the next candidate. However, the voting intentions of the 14% who remain undecided have the potential to sway the vote.
Is there any party that represents a credible challenge to the FSLN alliance?
One significant difference from the 2006 elections is that the opposition is more divided, splitting the vote. The elections will be fought mainly between the FSLN, the PLI and the PLC. Despite being largely discredited as a result of the major corruption scandals linked to his time as President (1996 – 2002), the PLC presidential candidate Arnoldo Alemán has always maintained good relations with grass roots supporters. However, the PLC is much debilitated after a series of internal divisions.
An added difficulty for opposition parties will be that their scaremongering of previous election campaigns has failed to materialise: the FSLN government has not spent the last five years fighting with the US or the business sector and the economy is far from being in a state of collapse. However, opposition parties and civil society organisations condemn the way in which the constitution was changed to enable Ortega to stand, a move they consider illegal.
What is the goal of the FSLN in terms of National Assembly seats?
Currently the FSLN holds 38 out of 92 seats in the National Assembly. This has meant that they have not been able to pass legislation without entering into alliances with other parties. Therefore this time their aim is to win not just the Presidency, but also 50 or more seats in the National Assembly.
Will there be international and national election observers? The European Union confirmed at the beginning of September that it had reached an agreement with the Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to send around 80 observers. The CSE has insisted that observation by national and international organisations be considered ‘accompaniment.’ EU representative Mendel Goldstein confirmed that “I believe that all the conditions exist to put together an accord on our participation in the process” including free movement of the accompaniers, access to all participants in the electoral process on election day” and the right of delegations to issue pronouncements on their observations after showing the text to the CSE. There will also be delegations from national organisations, the Organisation of American States, the Carter Centre, and the Latin American Council of Election Experts (CEELA).
For more information, contact
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign
86 Durham Rd, London N7 7DT
Tel:020 7561 4836