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NICARAGUA
Ortega tightens his grip on power
Carmen Herrera
11/15/2011
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President is re-elected and takes control over other branches of government.

President Daniel Ortega was re-elected in a landslide victory on Nov. 6, even though Nicaragua’s constitution prohibits consecutive terms. The 66-year-old incumbent of the National Liberation Sandinista Front won another five-year term, capturing 62 percent of the vote, topping Fabio Gadea, of the Independent Liberal Party/National Union for Hope alliance, who won close to 31 percent, according to the Supreme Electoral Council.

The Liberal Constitutional Party candidate won 6 percent, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance captured 0.3 percent of the vote and the Alliance for the Republic had 0.1 percent.

José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said the vote was peaceful and free of violence.

However, there were reports of fraud by Gadea and other allegations of irregularities before, during and after the election, such as ruling party presence overseeing the vote at poll centers, and reports that there were not identity cards available in anti-Sandinista areas, and that there was not domestic monitoring poor of the process.

Weak opposition
But even with these allegations, the opposition lacked a clear proposal to counter the powerful Sandinista government. Many voters considered the opposition candidates more of the same, since the tickets included officials and lawmakers from previous conservative governments.

Gadea, for example, has close family ties with former President Arnoldo Alemán, who governed from 1997-2002, and who was a lawmaker in the Central American Parliament in the 14 years that Alemán’s party ruled.

Alemán, candidate for the Liberal Constitutional Party, signed the so-called “pact” with Ortega in 1999 that allowed power to be split between his party and Sandinistas, as well as permitting a president to be elected with just 35 percent of the vote. But Alemán’s party’s scant support won it just seven seats in Congress of a total of 92.

Other candidates, representatives of the National Liberal Alliance, an offshoot of Alemán’s party, as well as the National Union for Hope, created by ex-President Enrique Bolaños, who governed from 2002 to 2007, won less than 1 percent of the votes.

“What stands out in the minds of the majority of the Nicaraguan people is the pain of injustice and inequality that the poor have suffered for generations, and above all … from the neoliberal model that was put in power in the name of democracy,” political analyst Andrés Pérez Baltodano wrote in the weekly magazine Confidencial. “For the discourse to reach the population’s consciousness, it is necessary to demonstrate that democracy is capable of responding to the Nicaraguans’ vital needs and their aspirations.”

“The discourse of the opposition ignores that reality,” he added.

Irregularities reported
But Ortega’s resounding win brought with it numerous allegations of fraud and irregularities, since the Sandinista government controls so many branches of the state structure, including the Supreme Court, which two years ago struck down article 147 of the country’s constitution that banned consecutive re-election.

“It is the obligation of the state to eliminate obstacles that impede that Nicaraguans can have equality and effective participation in political, economic and social life,” the tribunal said. Judges on the court stayed on, even though their terms ended in 2010.

“Daniel Ortega made Sandinistas out of the entire opposition that dominated the state branches at the time,” researcher José Luis Romero told to Latinamerica Press. “The irregularities to win the election were present since he took office in January of 2007.”

In a press conference on Nov. 8, a European Union observer mission said that while the election was peaceful, the process was led by an electoral system that was not independent and that failed to fulfill its job of transparency and collaboration with all political parties.

For Romero, “the latent danger that Ortega is tightening his grip on power, like the Somoza dictatorship that governed for 45 years, is closer and more palpable than ever because he won a parliamentary majority — 60 seats — which could allow him to transform not just article 147 of the constitution that doesn’t allow for re-election but other laws that could guarantee he could stay in power indefinitely.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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