Elections in Nicaragua: “Power is not at stake”, 3 keys to understanding the expected third consecutive reelection

Like five years ago, on Sunday a new victory for Daniel Ortega is expected without opposition.

The president of Nicaragua declared himself the winner in the 2016 presidential elections in an overwhelming way. The electoral college awarded him the 72% of the votes. But the elections were stained because the leftist president had no jurisdiction: the judiciary, which according to his critics is controlled by him, had outlawed the opposition.

This Sunday, Ortega, who will turn 76 at the end of the month, is expected to be elected president for the fourth time, the third in a row, in a context similar to that of five years ago.

“Power is not at stake, there is no electoral competition,” political analyst Eliseo Núñez told BBC Mundo bluntly. “Ortega controls everything and now in 2021 with an iron fist ”, he highlights.

In the last four months, the Justice ordered the imprisonment of seven candidates who were emerging as Ortega’s rivals in the elections together with 32 opposition leaders and businessmen – another allies – who are accused of “Conspiracy and treason”.

A recent Gallup poll released two weeks ago highlighted that even the most unpopular of all imprisoned opposition candidates would have defeated the leftist leader who has ruled Nicaragua since 2007, after a first presidential term in the 1980s.

The poll revealed a piece of information never seen before for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the strong political party that Ortega leads: their political sympathy had dropped to 9%, after exceeding 70% in 2016.

“In 2016 it was enough for him to simply outlaw the opposition, now he has arrested all the candidates,” says Núñez, exiled in Costa Rica.

“They were neither pre-candidates nor from their own group, much less they were presidential pre-candidates. That never existed, ”Ortega said after the arrests of opponents Cristiana Chamorro, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, among others.

Oscar René Vargas, a sociologist who was a member of the FSLN National Directorate, says that Ortega did not want to compete in the elections because he knows that lost the support of the population.

“The polls do not lie, that’s why it has comparsas parties or stilt walkers like their opponents, ”says Vargas.

At BBC Mundo we summarize in three keys the political moment that explains the expected re-election of Ortega.

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1. The 2018 protests

Ortega has governed Nicaragua since 2007 and until 2018 he enjoyed high levels of popularity, according to various polls. In April 2018, university students and farmers went to the streets to protest against a reform to social security that reduced social benefits to retirees. The riots were violently suppressed by the police.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), of the Organization of American States (OAS), quantified 328 people died during the protests, the majority opposed the government at the hands of police or armed civilians loyal to Ortega.

The government called the protests “an attempted coup” and accused the United States and the Catholic Church of encouraging them.

Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo.

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Since then, the Central American country of 6.2 million inhabitants and one of the poorest in Latin America has experienced a continuing political crisis aggravated in 2021.

The government not only arrested the most visible opposition leaders this year, but also closed the country’s main newspaper, The Press, with almost 100 years of history, imprisoned its general manager, whom it accused of money laundering, and forced a good part of its most critical journalists to go into exile.

“We are still alive in the digital part, but our journalists work almost clandestinely in Nicaragua,” a La Prensa authority who had to leave the country told BBC Mundo.

2. The response of the international community

The situation in Nicaragua has drawn the attention of the international community. The United States has said that this Sunday’s are not free elections and has sanctioned 28 Nicaraguan officials, including the country’s vice president and Ortega’s wife. Rosario Murillo, along with four of his children.

To that sentence has been added Canada and the European Union and the OAS (Organization of American States), which already has a session scheduled for November 10 to analyze the situation in Nicaragua.

Expert in negotiating on the edge of the abyss, “Ortega is internationally isolated And while it is true that the economic sanctions imposed by various countries have not directly impacted the country’s loans to the international community, the effects will soon begin to be felt, ”says Vargas.

Opponents in exile

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In addition to being detained, other opponents have left the country and engaged in politics from abroad.

The United States Senate approved a law this week, which they have called Be reborn, which is intended to put more pressure on Ortega until there are “free and fair” elections.

“With Ortega incarcerating more than 150 political prisoners, including virtually all opposition presidential candidates, we are not going to sit idly by while his regime consolidates a third dictatorship in Latin America,” said Senator Bob Menéndez.

The law, now in the office of Joe biden In order for it to be signed by the president, it obliges Washington’s representatives in international organizations to limit access to loans from Nicaragua.

But the most important point of the law is related to the possible revision of the United States Free Trade Agreement with Nicaragua, through which 60% of Nicaraguan exports to US soil enter free of tariffs or with preferential rates. The treaty has a clause on governance and human rights and that is what the legislators ask to review.

“If the United States puts that treaty up for review, it would be catastrophic for the Nicaraguan economy and the end of Ortega,” says a Nicaraguan economist who requests anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Ortega accuses the United States of interference and of promoting a change of government in the country for years.

T-shirts in favor of Ortega.

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Daniel Ortega will reach 20 years in power at the end of the term that he will almost certainly win this Sunday.

But not even the international pressure of recent months forced Nicaragua to allow national or international electoral observation. In 2014, an electoral reform approved by the majority of deputies loyal to Ortega changed the term from “observer” to “companion.” And no body of weight like the OAS, the European Union or the Carter Center will be observing the elections.

Ortega assured in June that the sanctions would not bend his administration and analysts believe that, despite isolating the country even more, they would not provoke a change of government, as it has not happened in Cuba and Venezuela.

3. The effects of the crisis on the street

With the economic boom driven by US $ 600 million annual in Venezuelan oil cooperation and foreign direct investment, Nicaragua maintained high levels of economic growth until 2017. The country grew at an average of 4%, according to figures from the World Bank (WB)

Due to the protests that paralyzed the country in 2018 and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted almost 9%, according to the World Bank.

Managua Market

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106,000 Nicaraguans have left the country since 2018.

“Poverty is increasing as the main sources of income, wages and income from family businesses continue to be affected,” said the World Bank.

Ortega and the vice president, his wife Rosario Murillo, could use the sanctions to justify the economic contraction of the largest country in Central America.

Some analysts believe that Ortega and Murillo will seek to negotiate with important business sectors to reactivate the economy, seeking a stabilizing effect for their administration and normalizing society as before 2018.

Man in front of a banner of the Ortega campaign

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But among the recent arrests are those of the leaders of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, Michael Healy Lacayo and Álvaro Vargas, who face charges similar to the detained presidential candidates.

In the midst of the political crisis, more than 106,000 Nicaraguans have left the country since 2018, according to United Nations calculations. And in the last year, due to the pandemic, migration has accelerated.

Last January, 595 Nicaraguans were detained at the United States border. In July, 13,391 Nicaraguans had already been detained at the same border posts, according to official figures.

The departure of Nicaraguans influences the economy. The Central Bank of Nicaragua projects that by the end of 2021, US $ 2 billion will have entered the country in remittances, 17% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a great incentive for a country that, according to projections, will continue to expel migrants in the next years.

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