Consolidating a Dictatorship in Central America

Two days before Americans gave Barack Obama another four years in the White House, Nicaraguans headed to the polls for local elections. The results were sadly predictable: Daniel Ortega’s ruling Sandinista Front won a large majority of the vote; the Nicaraguan opposition complained about massive fraud; and the U.S. State Department expressed concern over “irregularities.”

Here’s a portion of the statement released on November 5 by Foggy Bottom spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

There have been widespread complaints about the partisan manner in which Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council managed the process in the run-up to and on Election Day to the advantage of the ruling party. Irregularities observed on election day included citizens being denied the right to vote, a failure to respect the secrecy of citizens’ votes, and reported cases of voters being allowed to vote multiple times. These disturbing practices have marred multiple recent Nicaraguan elections.

Indeed, similar “irregularities” tarnished the country’s 2011 national elections, which “constituted a deterioration in the democratic quality of Nicaraguan electoral processes, due to the lack of transparency and neutrality with which they were administered by the Supreme Electoral Council,” according to the final report issued by the European Union Election Observation Mission. The “irregularities” in Nicaragua’s 2008 local elections were so egregious that Western countries suspended economic aid as punishment.

Four years ago, the Sandinistas won 109 mayoral races. This year, they won 134 out of 153, or nearly 88 percent of all contests. Citing estimates from the Institute for Development and Democracy, journalist Tim Rogers notes that more than one-fifth of all the Nicaraguans who attempted to cast ballots on November 4 were not listed on the official voter registries, and thus were turned away from the polls. Meanwhile, it appears that at least some Sandinista backers voted twice.

“We do not believe in the results given by a completely discredited Electoral Council, with no credibility and that plays on the side of (the Sandinistas), and that allows dead people to be listed as candidates,” Nicaraguan congressman Eliseo Núñez, a member of the Independent Liberal Party, told the Associated Press. “We participated because the people should have a choice. But we know that everything was rigged and the Electoral Council did what Daniel Ortega ordered.”

With each fraudulent or illegitimate election, Nicaragua moves closer to one-party autocracy. The rule of law has effectively been replaced by Sandinista thuggery.

Just look at Ortega’s 2011 reelection. The Nicaraguan constitution is quite clear on term limits: No president is allowed to serve more than two terms overall, and no president is allowed to serve two consecutive terms. In 2009, Ortega was in the midst of his second presidential term, the first having come back in the 1980s. Therefore, according to the letter of the law, he was constitutionally prohibited from seeking reelection.