this can’t be happening…can it?

The conclusions on the Nicaragua elections in the mainstream media fall into three main areas. They were, in fact, mapped out in many of the articles which preceded the vote:

  1. the Sandinistas could not win a fair election
  2. the election observers all corroborate this conclusion
  3. even if the vote itself was fair, the Sandinistas have manipulated the run up to the election, and have ‘bribed’ the electorate through social programmes financed by Venezuelan aid

Most alternative views have appeared in blogs rather than in newspapers or tv and radio. John Perry, writing from Nicaragua (see here), puts the election victory down to a combination of the benefits of the social programmes and the personal support for Ortega, who has won over many of the ‘independents’ or ‘undecideds’ who in the past have lined up against the Sandinistas. Whatever the validity or otherwise of his candidacy (the argument can be boiled down to unconstitutionality vs clever politics) the result underlines that in these elections at least, Ortega was the right candidate for the FSLN to choose. His final vote, just over 62%, correspondeded with both what the opinion polls were saying and the approval ratings his government was attracting before the election.

Another blogger, Dave Lindoff, put it even more bluntly in his post on the wonderfully named site This Can’t Be Happening (see here for full post). He gave these reasons for Ortega’s victory:

Why of all the nerve! What a crook and a scheister! Imagine catering to the needs of the poor in order to win an election. How low can a politician stoop?

Except that, wait a minute. Isn’t that what politicians are supposed to do: to adopt policies aimed at pleasing their base?

Not to mention, isn’t the basic idea of government supposed to be to improve the lot of the majority, and especially of those who are society’s neediest?

The Nicaragua Network, in their latest update, reports on the three main groups of international observers (their briefings draw their information from the Nicaraguan media, including the anti-FSLN dailies La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario). Far from being unanimous, the oberserver groups have come to different conclusions:

The observer mission of the European Union released its preliminary report about Sunday’s elections on Tuesday afternoon. According to a summary in La Prensa, the EU delegation deplored the unconstitutional candidacy of Daniel Ortega, the failure to appoint new members of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the accreditation of national observer groups sympathetic to the government and the failure to grant accreditation to opposition groups, the failure to distribute voter ID cards in a timely fashion, lack of transparency in the formation of local electoral boards at each precinct, missing poll watchers when the votes were being counted, and Roberto Rivas’ attacks on La Prensa. Luis Yañez, head of the mission, said, “The total of irregularities shows many imperfections but as to whether or not Daniel Ortega won, he won. Beyond that I won’t say.” He also said, “If you read the report carefully, it is balanced; we are not congratulating anybody,” which could mean that there is more in the report than was summarized in La Prensa.

The Organization of American States, however, released a communiqué congratulating Nicaraguans on their elections, noting that “in spite of certain predictions about tensions and acts of violence, the maturity of the Nicaraguan people and their vocation for peace marked the peaceful character with which the general elections closed on Sunday…. In Nicaragua yesterday democracy and peace advanced.” The communiqué noted that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza had called President Daniel Ortega to congratulate him on “the maturity shown by Nicaraguans during the process.” The communiqué went on to say, “Beyond the commentaries that will be included in the final report, the accompaniment mission has expressed to Nicaraguan authorities the indispensible need to guarantee that an electoral accompaniment mission has the security to carry out its mission without any difficulty.” The OAS mission at the beginning reported difficulty gaining entry to 20% of the polling places it was scheduled to cover. After reporting the problem, the OAS said that the situation was remedied. The OAS communiqué said that the mission had received complaints from diverse political organizations about irregularities which members of the mission did not themselves observe but that these would be noted in the final report.

The Latin American Council of Election Experts (CEELA) fielded the third international observer group in Nicaragua for the elections. Alberto Ramirez Zambonini, president of Paraguay’s electoral council, said the electoral process proceeded positively with “agility in the voting process and effective organization with tranquility and peace.” As to the irregularities alleged by the opposition, he said that members of his group did not themselves find evidence of them.

A fourth, constant narrative during the elections, and before, was to portray the FSLN government as a dictatorship. The emerging reports of violence in Northern Nicaragua, where both FSLN and PLI supporters have been killed, will play to this theme. The only violence during the election day itself came from PLI reporters. Though it is too early to say who has instituted the current wave, several of the political parties, including members of the MRS (ex-Frente Sandinista members) have been talking up a violent response if the elections were ‘stolen’ for several months. The situation is undoubtedly tense, and there could be several more flashpoints before things calm down. In the 2008 municipal elections there was also violence, much of it emanating from the opposition.

Perhaps more disturbing is the way the police are being portrayed. In his online publication Nicaragua Dispatch, Tim Rogers, no friend of the Sandinistas, quotes a representative of CENIDH, the human rights organisation:

“This has become a situation of institutional violence, state violence. The police are working with government paramilitaries to repress the opposition and preventively detain people to keep them from protesting. And that’s only throwing more gasoline on the fire,”

The police consistently come out as the most trusted law enforcment body in Central America, and their head the most trusted official by Nicaraguan people, far above any of the politicians who stood for election. Gonzalo Carrion’s quote about throwing gasoline on the fire may be true, but it is as well to ask who in fact is adding fuel to this particular fire.


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