By Brian Kulpan
On November 6, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won his third consecutive term in office with his wife, Ortega Rosario Murillo, selected to serve as vice president. Although he was heavily favored to win the vote, President Ortega and his allies have faced accusations of pervasive political manipulation in order to secure his position at the helm for the next five years. The accusations were verified through the President’s recent actions: In his first two terms, he took control of all branches of government, formulated the possibility of indefinite presidential re-election, and delegitimized opposition parties that posed a challenge. This has allowed him to form a political dynasty with his wife.
The Ortega name became infamous in the 1980s as leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a Marxist guerrilla group that overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship. Since assuming power, the former revolutionary set aside the party’s ideological agenda and has since focused on repression of public dissent in an effort to boost his popularity and maintain a firm grip on power. The repercussions of this election have the potential to impact Nicaragua far beyond the next election cycle. The opposition party is not campaigning, Dora María Téllez, founder of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) party, told AQ. Téllez also compared the Ortegas to a dictatorship similar to the Somozas, referring to the right-wing regime that dominated Nicaragua’s 20th century politics.
According to the Associated Press, approximately 3.8 million citizens took part in Nicaragua’s election. However, the opposition party, Broad Front for Democracy, disputed the rather large turnout figure issued by the government, claiming it was much lower. Such discrepancy between parties on voter turnout raises a red flag. In the months preceding the election, Ortega barred all international observers from monitoring polls and had the Supreme Electoral Council ban 28 legislators, including the allied Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Independent Liberal Party, from Congress. This included the ILP’s leading candidate for president, Eduardo Montealegre. On Election Day, Mr. Ortega only faced five other minor candidates, painting himself as the favored candidate. While Ortega’s political future appears stronger than ever, worsening economic prospects suggest it may be vulnerable in the long run.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas behind Haiti. The prospect of building the Nicaraguan canal to bridge Central America has been an attractive economic option for decades. However, the Chinese-financed project is splitting the nation in two. The proposal offers economic benefits at an uncertain cost. In a recent interview with Aljazeera, environmental attorney Monica Lopez Baltodano views the canal as one of the largest threats to local communities. She is also the director of the Popol Na Foundation, an organization which looks after local civil rights. She argues the project is flawed, saying that is sells dreams of changing the economic system and lessening poverty but does not have the capability to do so.