municipal elections looming large

Next week Nicaraguans will again be going to the polls, this time in Municipal elections. As always, trying to get to the heart of what’s at stake can be a bit time consuming. The elections take place against a background of a change in the law regarding the number of councillors and municipal functions; an opposition which continues to further implode, looking at an election result much worse than in last year’s national elections; and the continued accusations of vote-rigging, which began with the last Municipal elections in 2008.

As for the numbers, the law is tripling the number of councillors elected (which were pitifully low to run an administration properly), and introducing gender equality into the councillors elected. There will also be new lines of accountability, which are intended to make the councils more accountable to the electorate, and answerable to ‘direct democracy’. How this will play out remains to be seen. The tensions between ‘representational democracy’ and ‘direct democracy’ are not unique to Nicaragua in Latin America, and how these are handled will decide how effective each council is. Some of these tensions are outlined in a recent article in Envio (see here).

The state of the opposition makes it all too easy to predict an increase in the number of Sandinista municipalities come November 4. The only question is how many more will the Sandinistas win, after claiming 109 out of 153 in the 2008 elections. The current figures for the opposition are pitiful. Two recent polls show more than solid support for the FSLN. M&R Consultares (which tends to over-estimate FSLN support), show the Sandinistas on 72%, and the combined oppostion on less than 10%, with remainder don’t know/did not answer. In a poll at the same time CID-Gallup (which tends to over-estimate opposition support) showed the FSLN on 56%, the opposition on 7%, with 35% saying no party.

The findings are important for two reasons. First they show that the FSLN looks likely to get at least as many votes as it did in the national elections (63%), if not more. Secondly, the polls have consistently under-cut one of the two main political narratives about Nicaragua which are aired abroad, that Nicaragua is ‘increasingly polarised’. In fact, Nicaragua is becoming increasingly Sandinista, partly to do with the successful governmental programmes, and a lot to do with the lamentable state of the two main opposition parties, the PLI and the PLC (for an analysis of the elections see Tortilla con Sal’s late post here).

The second familiar narrative is that the Municipal elections will be crooked, a judgment that has been made, like in past votes, before a single ballot has been cast. Amongst the observers (or as they are know in Nicaragua, ‘accompaniers’) is a 75 strong Organisation of American States delegation, headed by Ricardo Seitenfus. According to the Nicaragua Network’s recent summary of the country’s press,

“contrary to what is alleged by opposition parties and groups, the government did adopt the recommendations for electoral reform that the OAS had recommended after last year’s general elections. Seitenfus said, “There are contradictions about interpretation. The recommendations are in a different form in the new election law that was passed, but all the recommendations were incorporated. But, this is for sovereign Nicaragua to receive these recommendations and they are recommendations; their acceptance is not required. It is simply a recommendation; not an order.”

The ideological battlefield also extends beyond the political parties and civil society. The Catholic Church weighed in in September, with the Bishops Conference calling the FSLN ‘autocratic’. Three days later the Evangelical Co-ordinator called on the electorate to support the FSLN because of its government social and economic programmes (see here for the NicaNet updates for October for fuller details).

So it looks likely that the Sandinistas will increase their number of municipalities, and their percentage of the vote. For all the contradictions that exist with the FSLN (and there are many), and the mistakes which are made or are perceived to be made (which, as for all governments, there are quite a few), the reasons for the steadily growing support have been summed up in a recent article by Jorge Capelán , an Argentinian who has worked for many years for a Nicaraguan radio station. His lengthy piece (see Letter to a Friend) is a riposte to the picture painted by foreign coverage of Nicaragua, and is aimed squarely at those living outside the country.