Nicaragua: President Ortega tramples the Constitution on his way to a third term
Nicaraguans will elect a new president on Sunday, Nov. 6. President Ortega is running for reelection, even though the Constitution prohibits him from doing so. (Getty Images)
Not even Anastasio Somoza García, the United States-backed dictator who ruled Nicaragua until his assassination in 1956, dared to run for reelection. He and his sons perfected a system of political puppetry, which kept them in power either directly or behind curtains, but they always tried to hide the strings, and never attempted what President Daniel Ortega is doing now.
Ortega once fought to protect and ensure Nicaragua’s freedom from tyranny as the guerrilla leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN), a fact that makes his current reelection efforts such an egregious affront to his former stances.
Therefore, when Nicaragua holds its presidential elections this Sunday, Nov. 6 and Ortega is elected - a result that many believe is a foregone conclusion - it will only further illuminate the former champion of freedom and liberation’s decision to trample his nation’s Constitution on his road to power.
“There is fraud already, one that has been built steadily from a long time ago,” César Úbeda, the politics editor for La Prensa, told Univision News. Article 147 from the Nicaraguan Constitution states that no one “who is, or has been” president during a current term, or anyone “who has been president for two terms in the past” may run for president.
Both restrictions apply to Ortega, and he knows it.
There are many explanations as to Ortega’s desperate pursuit of another term. There’s the immunity that shields him from answering the 1998 accusations from his stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez, who claimed Ortega had sexually abused her from 1979, when she was 11, until 1990. The claims were “eventually dismissed by a Sandinista judge,” as reported by Time magazine.
Then, there are the disastrous defeats of 1990, 1996, and 2001, when Ortega campaigned over and over to no avail. Now in power for the second time, heading for a third round, Ortega has been ranked next to Cuba’s Fidel Castro as one of the two “worst Latin American leaders,” according to the prestigious Latinobarómetro poll.
Finally, there are those dubious friendships – for the U.S., at least – with Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. When Ortega met Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006, he said, “Revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are almost twin revolutions… since both revolutions are about justice, liberty, self-determination, and the struggle against imperialism.” This time in Nicaragua, the highly organized FSLN controls many regions, and it’s known for organizing rallies in main squares, as opposed to the apathy that great parts of the population show.
What’s more, he strategies to guarantee Ortega’s win are as diverse as are their reach.
States and towns that traditionally vote against the Sandinistas lack thousands of IDs that would otherwise allow their citizens to vote (these include El Jícaro, San Fernando, Santa María, El Cuá, and others); according to Úbeda’s estimations “nearly 30,000” anti-Ortega Nicaraguans might be unable to vote.
Observers from the Carter Center have been denied credentials to formally supervise the procedures, so they decided to send an “informal group” with no real authority but with symbolic presence instead. Univision News requested comments from the Center, but they declined to do so. “We do plan to issue a statement,” Deborah Hakes, assistant director for Peace Programs, told Univision News.
Only observers from the OAS and the EU have been allowed access, while local independent initiatives have also been denied credentials, and won’t be able to scrutinize the voting. These groups include Let’s Make Democracy (Hagamos Democracia), Ethics and Transparency (Ética y Transparencia), and the Institute for Development of Democracy (Instituto para el Desarrollo de la Democracia - IPADE).
Another group, the National Council of Universities (Consejo Nacional de Universidades - CNU), was given credentials, but it is headed by Telémaco Talavera, “a close aide to Ortega in agricultural issues,” according to EFE.
To run for a new term, Ortega forced the Supreme Court of Nicaragua to declare portions of Articles 147 and 178 of the Constitution of Nicaragua inapplicable. At the same time, Ortega’s machinery had already inserted Sandinista loyalists to every level of his administration.
“What takes the credibility out of it,” said another editor who asked for anonymity, “is that the Electoral Voting Board and the Supreme Electoral Council are directly controlled by members of the FSLN. Anyone can see this because those people are in every neighborhood, and you know those who work for the ruling party.”
So far, some polls predict a victory by 40%, at least.
“The government has their own polls made by companies such as Siglo Nuevo, which always try to put Mr. Ortega in the first place with approval levels Nicaragua has never seen before,” said Úbeda. Ortega’s main contender is former journalist and writer Fabio Gadea Mantilla, from Alianza PLI-UNE, who turns 80-years old on November 9.
According to several sources and accounts, the Nicaraguan leader has spent most of his tenure crafting his permanence of power, providing support to right-wing businessmen – so as to demonstrate his regime’s support of their economic and political privileges – and creating divide among the fragmented opposition, while using his public support of the Catholic Church – offering anti-abortion policies – to gain social credibility.
The eventual victory of Ortega reflects a mixture of dynamics which have successfully “manipulated the political system,” using “social benefit policies that have created a political capital for his electoral gain”, said Manuel Orozco, director for the Central America program from Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington D.C.-based center for policy analysis.
“We see the rise of a dominant party, similar to (Mexico’s) PRI, similar to Costa Rica’s National Liberation Party, similar to PRD in the Dominican Republic in the seventies. The difference is that in Nicaragua, [Ortega’s party] has used its country’s public and political infrastructure,” said Orozco.
“No matter how many polls we may have, we cannot predict what the outcome is going to be,” Julio Rank, program officer for Latin America from the National Endowment for Democracy, told Univision News. “The majority of voters will make up their minds that exact day. Other than that, all is mere speculation.”