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Nicaraguan elections: a clean sweep for the FSLN?

Nicaraguan local elections : a clean sweep for the FSLN?

By Karla Jacobs for

If you believe what the Nicaraguan and international corporate media say about the upcoming municipal elections you will be outraged about the sorry state of the country's electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which, in cahoots with that beastly Daniel Ortega, is planning to trick the Nicaraguan people out of their right to a free and transparent elections of Sunday (November 9). Luckily though, the US State Department, the European Union and a group of respectable international figures have demonstrated their commitment to "democracy" by speaking out against the "dictatorship," while back in Nicaragua the "democratic" forces have joined together to make one big happy alliance of freedom lovers ready to challenge the reign of terror imposed by the Orteguista mobs, which are referred to for some reason as CPCs.

If, on the other hand, you are an ordinary Nicaraguan from a marginalized neighborhood or rural community you probably won't be paying much attention to the media fanfares as you witness the same preparations for the municipal elections taking place in the same way as has done in previous years. You won't have noticed a decrease in your freedom of expression, nor will you have been terrorized by your local Council of Citizen Power (CPC). In fact you might actually have enjoyed discussing different problems within your community, or your proposals for your area, at a meeting organized by your local CPC. But then you would be used to your reality being mostly ignored and occasionally misrepresented by the corporate media.

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November 9 - local elections or mid-term referendum?

Local elections will take place in 146 of Nicaragua's 153 municipalities on November 9. The slogan of the main opposition alliance, the PLC Alliance, for its electoral campaign is "Todos Contra Ortega" (Everyone Against Ortega), aptly illustrating the alliance's attempt to turn the upcoming elections into a sort of mid-term referendum on the FSLN government's administration, led by President Ortega. When discussing the elections, the alliance's candidates and their allies (in the national and international media, in influential civil society organizations and within other mechanisms of influence, submissive to the interests of Western Bloc governments) return again and again to the need to stop the "dictatorship" increasing its power. They insist on the urgent need to prevent a return of "la noche oscura" (the dark night) of the 1980s.

To a certain extent the FSLN, which currently controls 87 of the country's 153 municipalities, has also adopted the idea that the upcoming elections represent a mid-term referendum with candidates putting emphasis on the assurance that Sandinista mayors will guarantee greater access to the successful social programs coordinated by Central Government institutions like Hambre Cero, (Zero Hunger,) Usura Cero, (Zero Usury,) Casas para el Pueblo, (Houses for the People,) Calles para el Pueblo, (Streets for the People,) Alimentos para el Pueblo, (Food for the People,) etc.

As William Grigsby Vado, political analyst and director of the independent radio station La Primerísima, pointed out in his political commentary on October 28, the insistence on converting the local elections into a mid-term referendum will probably turn out to be a mistake for both parties, although it will have much more damaging repercussions for the PLC:

There is not going to be just one election [on November 9] ... but 146 elections, and the parameters are very different to those of a national election. The electorate has other priorities [which fall] within the traditionally predominant logic of local concerns. ... The PLC has committed a grave political error. They ... [are] promoting an election to vote against the government, and in particular, against President Ortega, instead of an election in which to vote for their candidates or for their policy proposals.

There are two obvious and important reasons why the FSLN's treatment of the upcoming elections as a mid-term referendum is likely not to prove too damaging; firstly, the idea is not the main focus of the campaign, the party is also putting a lot of effort into promoting individual candidates and their proposals; and secondly, the idea that FSLN led local governments would provide greater access to programs which are beginning to make a difference to families and communities around the country, is likely to appeal to many voters.

PLC Alliance campaign based on fear for lack of policy proposals

It is obvious to independent observers of Nicaraguan political events over the last few years that the main reason the PLC Alliance has based its campaign around anti-Ortega feeling rather than the promotion of its proposals, is simple. It does not have any policy proposals which are simultaneously inspiring and realistic to promote, something that has been made clear over and again during the ongoing energy, food and financial crises and in the aftermath of recent natural disasters. The Nicaraguan right, and the Latin American right in general, is suffering a profound ideological and political crisis, the origin of which is the failure of the financial and commercial structures of global capitalism.

One only needs to cast one's mind back to the last few months of former President Enrique Bolaños' administration to be reminded of how the Nicaraguan right has demonstrated its inability to fulfill its most basic duties when in government. During Bolaños' administration the pseudo free market, deregulated to perfection by over a decade of neo liberal economic policies, was shown incapable of guaranteeing electrical current to the country due to the rise in the price of oil. During the second half of 2006 most areas were affected by daily power cuts of up to fourteen hours a day. The Bolaños Administration responded to the crisis, reducing working hours by half for all government institutions in order to save energy.

Within a few months of coming to power, amd despite the ongoing increases in the price of oil, the Ortega Administration had significantly reduced the length of the daily power cuts thanks to the government's signing of a commercial agreement with Venezuelan public oil company PDVSA, which today supplies most of the country's total oil consumption under extremely favourable payment conditions. Within a year of taking office the FSLN government had eliminated electricity rationing. The government has also managed to secure several million dollar investments in small and medium scale renewable energy generation plants in an attempt to turn around the country's dependence on oil for 75% of its energy generation by tapping into the country's massive potential for renewable energy generation. This policy has paid off. In their first eighteen months of government Ortega and his team facilitated the generation of more megawatts of energy from renewable sources than the three previous governments did in 16 years.

Western Bloc powers do their bit to discredit FSLN government during campaign

So without credible policy alternatives to promote, the Nicaraguan right has resorted to the resurrection of its age old fear-based rhetoric. In doing so it has found the full support of the corporate media and traditional international allies. While PLC alliance candidate for mayor of Managua, Eduardo Montealegre (the multi millionaire banker accused of massive fraud against the state) warns about an "uncertain future if Ortega consolidates his dictatorship" (see full speech) representatives of the Western Bloc imperialist powers publicly condemn the Nicaraguan government.

In the space of three days at the end of October, three damning criticisms of the FSLN government were issued by three separate bodies, the European Union delegation in Managua, the US State Department and a group of formerly influential right wing politicians from across the American continent describing itself as a "group of friends of the [Organization of American State's] Democratic Charter."

On October 22 the EU delegation issued a statement expressing "concern" about the government's "harassment of NGOs" after the Public Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation into Ministry of Governance accusations that seven out of the country's more than 4,000 NGOs are involved in financial operations which do not abide by the relevant Nicaraguan legislation concerning NGOs.

On October 23 the US State Department Spokesperson Robert Wood read a statement in which the "credibility" of the upcoming municipal elections "as an expression of the will of the Nicaraguan people" was questioned. The two main reasons given were what was described as state "interference" in NGOs and the cancellation of the legal personality of two opposition parties. It is essential to note here that it has been confirmed over and again by official and independent sources, as well as by the European Union delegation in Managua, that these two parties (the Sandinista Renovation Movement, MRS and the Conservative Party) failed to meet the legal prerequisites required of political parties by Nicaraguan law in order to maintain their legal personality.

On October 24 a group of 17 former government officials of the Americas including former US president Jimmy Carter, former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoza and former vice president of Nicaragua Sergio Ramírez, published a letter expressing their "profound concern" about recent events in Nicaragua which put in doubt the "development of a democratic electoral process" in the upcoming local elections. Again the two main arguments were based on the now infamous NGO case and the cancellation of two opposition parties' legal status.

Finland reallocates US$2.5 million of aid originally for budget support

Ten days later on November 3 came the announcement that Finland had decided to look for an alternative destination inside Nicaragua for US$2.5 million of the US$13 million it gives to the Nicaraguan government a year as part of the Budget Support Group. According to Maria Luisa Balbini, adviser for local development and governance at the Finnish Embassy in Managua, the decision was based on the NGO case and the two opposition parties who had their legal personalities canceled. As you can see, it is starting to sound a bit like a broken record, although Balbini also threw in the false assertion that the electoral authority had refused to allow electoral observers to take part in the electoral process, a completely false assertion which is dealt with at the end of the article.

Although Finland's announcement involves the reallocation (not the cancellation) of what is a relatively insignificant amount of money the corporate press and the political opposition pounced on the story spinning it for all it was worth. The day the story broke El Nuevo Diario (one of Nicaragua's two daily newspapers) ran the dishonest front page headline "Finland cuts aid." Later on the same day PLC Alliance candidate Montealegre took advantage of a meeting with university students broadcast by most national TV networks during that evening's news programs to warn that "Finland is just the first of many."

It is impossible to say how much of an effect this kind of multi-pronged intimidation effort will have on the outcome of the November 9 elections. Although, following the logic mentioned above (that voters will principally consider local issues and the candidate's reputation within the community when deciding which party and who to vote for), one might assume it will have a lesser effect than those pulling strings behind the scenes would have hoped for.

Why fear-based rhetoric won't work this time

There are many political, demographical, and historical factors which come together in these elections to suggest that the right wing's fear based rhetoric will be less effective than in previous years. First of all, the suggestion that the FSLN government is a terrible dictatorship just does not coincide with the vast majority of the population's perception of the Ortega administration.

Secondly, because as a result of the last twenty months (since Ortega took office) it has been demonstrated that an FSLN government does not mean the introduction of rationing, military service or an end to family remittances. In other words it is now clear for those who had fallen victim of former scaremongering campaigns that the opposition were basing those campaigns on lies.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, over 50% of Nicaraguan voters are under the age of 30 and therefore have no adult memory of the Contra war of the 1980s. The population's traumatic memories of the war have until now been the principal tool used by imperialist and opposition forces to scare the Nicaraguan population into voting against the FSLN. Today, however, the tables have turned. Now it is the FSLN that is able to invoke the population's collective traumatic memories of 16 years of misery and abandonment as part of its electoral campaign.

Analysts and observers often refer to the unshakable loyalty of a large proportion of Nicaraguan voters to the party (either Sandinista or Liberal) their family has traditionally supported. In most rural and many impoverished urban areas the population is thought of as being almost exclusively made up of "Sandinista" or "Liberal" families. [This is why it has proven very hard for smaller alternative parties to make much progress outside the large urban centers (eg. the MRS or Alternative for Change to mention just a few).]

In the upcoming local elections, however, the percentage of the vote the liberal alliances have come to consider their own and on which their strong presence in local governments across the country depends, may well experience a significant drop as tens of thousands of younger members of liberal families across the country vote against their family's party. The reason for this possibility is simple: the social programs brought in by the FSLN government over the last twenty months make it much more difficult for liberal families to continue to bequeath passion for their party to their children.

FSLN hope to win Managua in epoch making turnaround

One of the arguments used by political analysts who believe the FSLN will have a tough time securing enough votes to win Managua, is that the FSLN only managed to win control over the capital's local government because the right wing was split. In recent statements quoted on the internet news outlet Informe Pastran, analyst Julio Lopez Campos added up the percentage of Managua's population that voted against the FSLN in the 2000 and 2004 local elections and the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections finding that each time the total percentage of votes deposited for the right wing was around 50% with the FSLN percentage of the vote standing at around 36%.

While at first this 14% disadvantage would appear difficult to overcome, one should remind oneself that the current situation is very different to the situation two years ago. In that sense Campos' argument can be considered ahistorical, given that it does not take into account the many factors, including those mentioned above, which favour the FSLN going into the upcoming local elections. In Managua, like in the rest of the country, the most important factor which favours the FSLN is that it has been in government for the last twenty months. And it is here that we discover the very essence of the right wing's obsession about not losing power: the right wing know that if they let the FSLN win one electoral victory, it will quickly create the conditions to win further victories.

If the FSLN do secure a majority in Managua against the (almost completely) united right wing forces represented by the PLC Alliance, it will represent an epoch making moment for Nicaraguan politics and may well mean the foundations have been laid for an FSLN victory in the 2011 presidential election.

Basing arguments on falsehoods, opposition predict fraud

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, the corporate media, based on arguments presented by opposition politicians, claims that the FSLN and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) are planning to commit fraud. The PLC Alliance's candidate for Vice Mayor Enrique Quiñonez expressed his amazement and anger that the PLC representatives within the CSE "have been so complacent with regards to the fraud being concocted" within the institution. In a recent TV interview Dora María Tellez (leader of the former Sandinista faction party the MRS which has now allied itself with the PLC Alliance) said that the FSLN is "doing everything it can to steal the elections." While former vice president and influential right wing politician Antonio Lacayo said recently that the President of the CSE Roberto Rivas has "ruined" the institution.

The main arguments being used to convince national and international onlookers that Ortega and the electoral authorities are planning to commit fraud on November 9 are that the CSE is not allowing electoral observation, the CSE is refusing to give out cédulas (the identification document required for voting) to liberal supporters, and that the CPCs are intimidating opposition supporters so that they are too afraid to turn up to voting stations on election day, all of which are based on varying degrees of falsehood.

The argument that the CSE is not allowing observation is a blatantly untrue. The CSE has accredited over 20 national and international electoral observation groups including the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Central American and Caribbean Organizations of Electoral Authorities (see media report). What the opposition mean when they say the CSE has not approved any electoral observers, is that they have not accredited the electoral observers that the opposition want to observe the elections, namely two civil society organizations IPADE and Ethics and Transparency, both of which receive funds from the US government and both of which have amply demonstrated on several occasions that they do not comply with the legal requirement of neutrality.

It is true that the municipal electoral council offices have failed to give out thousands of cédulas in time for applicants to vote during the elections. The idea that the local offices could somehow guess the voting intentions of applicants for cédulas out of the hundreds of thousands of applications is absurd. Sympathisers of all parties are equally affected. It is much more likely that the bureaucratic issuing system is imperfect and underresourced. Just ten days prior to the vote, the National Assembly had to vote an extra US$35 million to the Supreme Electoral Council in order to prevent the elections being cancelled altogether.

Meanwhile, the claim that the CPCs are terrorizing liberal supporters is made without any reference to the relevant context. There have been many outbursts of incidental violence over the last few months but these incidents have been carried out by both Sandinista and Liberal perpetrators. Both Liberals and Sandinistas have been injured. The only fatal victim was a Sandinista activist who was shot dead by a PLC activist in Terrabona, a rural municipality in Matagalpa.

These violent incidents are indeed disturbing and distinguish this electoral campaign from previous campaigns which have taken place under circumstances of greater social calm. What the incidents demonstrate is that a small number of both Sandinista and Liberal supporters are willing to resort to violent intimidation. There is one fundamental and important difference between the two parties' reactions to the incidents, however. The FSLN leadership have repeatedly called for calm and have not paraded "their" wounded on TV station. Meanwhile the main right wing candidate Montealegre has appeared at press conferences with wounded liberal activists in what appear like attempts to provoke further outrage among supporters. On top of this a certain number of representatives of the opposition forces have actually called on the population to take up arms against the "dictatorship", for example MRS leaders Dora María Tellez and Henry Ruiz (see media report).

La Primerisima's Director Grigsby believes that, conscious of its imminent crushing defeat, the opposition forces are intent on discrediting both the electoral process and its results. "With increasing frequency we hear members of [the opposition] say 'the only way the FSLN can win is by stealing the elections because everyone is opposed to the dictatorship.'" (see article)

El Nuevo Diario knowingly publishes inaccurate poll

As part of this attempt to discredit the elections, a poll was published by El Nuevo Diario on October 22 giving Eduardo Montealegre a 10% lead over FSLN candidate Alexis Argüello. Later in the day the academics involved in designing the poll held a press conference discarding the published poll's accuracy given that it only included interviewees from urban areas where the FSLN has generally less support than it does in generally poorer rural and semi urban areas. According to the academics, the newspaper had acted irresponsibly. Humberto Áviles, one of the academics who took part in the press conference, said that the way in which the newspaper published the poll "left a lot to think about."

Ortega's wife and government spokesperson Rosario Murillo, speaking at the same press conference, went further in denouncing the newspaper's actions saying "the promoters of this poll ... aim to create a certain perception among the general public so that, in the event of a different result, the opposition can allege fraud." Indeed other polls suggest the contest in Managua will be very close but that Argüello has a slight lead.

At the same press conference Murillo summed up why the FSLN believes it will claim victory in the elections on Sunday: "while others wage this dirty war, we are accompanying the people, from house to house, from family to family, demonstrating our solidarity. [Ours] is the option that the Nicaraguan people approve of and that will be demonstrated on November 9."


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