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Cablegate: Nicaragua's Regional Elections - the More Things

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0859/01 2432129
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 312129Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 000859

SIPDIS

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STATE PASS TO USAID
TREASURY FOR SENNICH

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA'S REGIONAL ELECTIONS - THE MORE THINGS
DON'T CHANGE

REF: A. MANAGUA 554
B. 08 MANAGUA 1392
C. 08 MANAGUA 1351
D. 08 MANAGUA 1101
E. 08 MANAGUA 982
F. 08 MANAGUA 939
G. 08 MANAGUA 761
H. 08 MANAGUA 209

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan, reasons 1.4(b&d)

1. (C) Summary: On July 30, Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral
Council (CSE) established the election calendar for the
Atlantic coast's regional elections, which will take place
March 7, 2010. The corrupt CSE magistrates who manipulated
the system and were complicit in the massive fraud in the
November 2008 municipal elections remain the main obstacle to
ensuring free, fair, and transparent regional elections. The
CSE has already fired warning shots regarding party
participation, voter registration, and electoral observation.
Nicaraguan civil society and opposition groups have
expressed concern that Nicaragua appears headed for another
fraudulent election, with likely negative consequences for
national elections in 2011. End Summary.

-----------------------------
CSE Issues Electoral Calendar
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) On July 30, the CSE established the election
calendar for the Atlantic coast's regional elections,
scheduled for March 7, 2010. These contests will determine
who will fill the 48 seats of the regional councils for the
North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the South
Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). Among the authorities and
powers vested in these councils is the ability to authorize
the extraction of natural resources through the granting of
concessions. The regional councils also prioritize
development projects within their respective regions,
although they rely on the central government for their
budgets.

3. (SBU) The CSE calendar establishes a series of dates
leading up to the regional elections. Some of the more
important dates are:

- Through September 12, 2009: applications accepted for
political party alliances;
- September 18, 2009: CSE approval of political party
alliances;
- September 7 - 30, 2009: presentation of candidates;
- November 6, 2009: official publication of candidates in
national register ("La Gaceta");
- Through December 6, 2009: verification of voter
registration list;
- December 7, 2009: last day to apply for a voter
registration card/identity card;
- By January 21, 2010: establishment of procedures and
participation of observers;
- January 21, 2010: opening of official campaign;
- February 5, 2010: publication of final voter registration
list;
- March 3, 2010: closure of official campaign;
- March 7, 2010: election day;
- March 22, 2010: publication of provisional results;
- April 1, 2010: proclamation of official results; and
- May 4, 2010: inauguration of elected officials.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Calendar Isn't the Problem - It's the Corrupt Officials
--------------------------------------------- ----------

4. (C) CSE Chief of Staff Rodrigo Barreto told us that the
Atlantic coast elections would run basically in the same way
as last November's elections, but intimated the fraud which
characterized them as well as the January 2009 regional
elections might not be as flagrant for the sake of
appearances. With the exception of two magistrates whose

MANAGUA 00000859 002 OF 002


terms expire in February 2010, the CSE leadership will
otherwise remain the same and this council will manage the
elections as it had in 2008. The magistrates that will
continue in office include CSE President Roberto Rivas, the
person ultimately responsible for the administration of last
November's elections. According to Barreto, in last year's
elections Rivas acted as "the bridge" between Ortega and
Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) caudillo Arnoldo Aleman
(implicitly in facilitating the massive fraud).

5. (C) The CSE's actions in the past weeks support Barreto's
statements that the regional elections will not be very
different from last November's municipal contests. Employing
the same tactics used in 2008 to limit the participation of
opposition parties (ref G and H), the CSE has notified the
Independent Liberal Party (PLI) of several "inconsistencies"
in its internal organization. While Barreto told us it was
unlikely the PLI would lose its legal registration, he did
state the possibility existed that the party would "destroy
itself." Likewise, as the CSE attempted to suppress voter
turnout in 2008 (ref C, D, E, F), it now has closed local
offices in the RAAS and requires citizens to travel to the
regional capital of Bluefields to obtain voter identification
cards. The RAAS's poor infrastructure (river travel is
required to reach the capital from some parts of the region)
combined with the high cost of travel for the local citizenry
will make obtaining a voter card extremely difficult (if not
impossible) for some in the local population. Finally, as in
2008 (ref C and D), FSLN officials and the CSE have stated
that the country's two most respected elections observation
groups (Ethics and Transparency, EyT, and the Institute for
Development and Democracy, IPADE) will not be accredited to
observe the regional elections.

-------
Comment
-------

6. (C) The Ortega government appears unfazed by a growing
chorus among Nicaraguan society to address the 2008 election
fraud and provide some sort of meaningful election reform
(ref A). Instead, it is pressing ahead with the Atlantic
regional elections at an accelerated pace and without any
changes that would improve the transparency or fairness of
the electoral process. Some civil society groups, including
those involved in the electoral reform movement, have
privately questioned whether it is worth it to compete in
these elections, given the likelihood of fraud and
manipulation. A repeat of fraud in the regional elections
would send the worst possible signal ahead of the 2011
national elections and would further erode public confidence
in Nicaragua's electoral process.
CALLAHAN

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