nicaraguan elections part 1

The Nicaraguan elections are drawing into their final fortnight. To the surprise of commentators (certainly those outside the country), Daniel Ortega is stretching his lead in the Presidential race. The most recent opinion poll put the Frente Sandinista at 58.5%, with a huge lead over their nearest rival.

Whilst this poll might be a statistical ‘outlier’, polls since the beginning of the year have put the FSLN winning comfortably. Looking at them, and allowing for polling outfits whose results favour either the Left or the Right, it was apparent at the beginning of the campaign that Ortega was likely to poll between 45-48%. This figure has since increased, putting the Sandinistas within reach of a majority in the National Assembly, or even able to muster enough votes with ‘allies’ to change the constitution (for an analysis of how the seats are allocated in the election, see this recent post in tortillaconsal). If the Sandinistas do poll over 50%, it will represent a huge blow for the Right, and leave the former Sandinistas in the MRS in tatters (who are running on the ticket with Fabio Gadea).

Given these figures there are two tunes that the opposition are trumpeting. Firstly, that the polls are wrong, and the Nicaraguans are hiding the way they will vote. They cite the 1990 elections, when Nicaraguans did indeed conceal their voting intentions. It was not hard to see why. The Sandinistas were rejected because people had suffered a civil war which claimed 30,000 lives; the economy was wrecked; and they had lost faith in the FSLN, and what they saw as the empty promise of the campaign slogan, “with Daniel and Sergio everything will be better.”

Twenty one years later and Nicaragua is the most secure and peaceful country in the region; it has the fastest growing economy of all Central American countries; and when the FSLN now promise better times, they can point to economic stability and the multiple social programmes supported through the membership of the ALBA.

The successful economy is even recognised by the Sandinistas’ right wing critics. So if  ‘the polls are wrong’ argument won’t hold water, then they use the second narrative, which has been developed since 2008, that the FSLN are planning a gigantic fraud. This was former US Ambassador Robert Callahan’s opening remarks in an article he jointly authored last week for the seriously right wing and influential, (and, it must be said, ever-so-slightly bonkers), Heritage Foundation:

It is a safe bet that Daniel Ortega will be Nicaragua’s next president on November 6. As leader of the disciplined Sandinista party, the 65-year-old former Marxist-Leninist rebel faces a fragmented and poorly funded opposition. He has a robust campaign chest thanks to nearly $2 billion dispensed over the past four years by his Venezuelan soul mate, Hugo Chavez. He exercises increasing influence over, or outright control of, most Nicaraguan television and radio stations.

Despite these advantages, Ortega may also resort to electoral fraud on a massive scale. If he does, the U.S. should be prepared to challenge the legitimacy of the elections and potentially cut future economic assistance.

Even in these opening paragraphs there are a mass of contradictions. He acknowledges the discipline of the Sandinistas, and the shambles of the opposition and their lack of funds (mainly because the US has washed their hands of the current round of opposition candidates, which Callahan failed to unite when he was Ambassador). He then refers to the $2 billion from Venezuela. In fact, this is all money which comes from the ALBA, which has gone to support the social programmes which have improved the lives of the poorest. The figure – $2 billion – is identical to the amount of aid which the US claimed it provided to the Chamorro government at the beginning of the 90s, none of which found its way into rural development programmes, improvements in health, and reductions in illiteracy.

Callahan then makes the frankly barmy (or could that just be plain untrue) claim that the Sandinistas influence and control most of the Nicaraguan television and radio stations. Nicaragua is awash with media – print, broadcast and electronic – where it is possible to listen to, watch or read a wide range of views.

The final sentence of his introduction offers the biggest contradiction (and for the full article, see here, and don’t forget the pinch of salt). If the Sandinistas are so far ahead in the polls, and have so many advantages (both true), why do they need to bother to organise a fraud? The punchline is the use to which fraud claims can be put. At the end of the article Callahan effectively spells out what should be the aim of the US Right when the Sandinistas win:

  • Condemn clearly and by name the fraud and its perpetrators and announce that it will not recognize the results and thus Ortega’s victory.
  • Work in the OAS, despite its limitations, to investigate and denounce the fraud and results.
  • If a U.S. ambassador has been nominated, the nomination process should be halted. The charge d’affaires should continue to run the embassy. The future presence of Nicaragua’s ambassador in the U.S. also hinges on free and fair elections on November 6.
  • Withhold the two waivers for Nicaragua’s efforts to compensate American citizens for property confiscated during the first Sandinista regime and for its lack of budgetary transparency. This would trigger automatic suspensions in other aid programs and require the U.S. to vote against Nicaraguan loan applications at certain international lending institutions.

You will search high and low for any mention in the mainstream media of what is happening in the elections. Expect all this to change on November 7, when the vampires of the Heritage Foundation and their legions of the undead try to bring to life the stinking corpse of Reagan-era rhetoric for Nicaragua.


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