TODAY NICARAGUA – The Nicaraguan Legislative Assembly, controlled by the ruling party, is preparing to renew the electoral tribunal, amid requests from civil society to guarantee the transparency of the general elections on November 7, where President Daniel Ortega is expected to seek a new term.
According to the Constitution, the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), made up of seven incumbents and three alternates, have to be appointed by the Legislature with 60% of the votes, on the basis of shortlists of candidates presented by the president and the deputies, in consultation with civil society.
The CSE leadership is currently occupied by judges related to the ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN) of Ortega, who have already expired the five-year term for which they were appointed.
“We need [electoral] magistrates who are really impartial,” economist José Aguerri, former president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), told reporters.
“We Nicaraguans need credible magistrates (…) who generate trust in the people,” Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a member of the Catholic hierarchy, said on Sunday, April 11, 2021, who in 2018 supported calls for Ortega’s departure from power in the midst of intense protests that left at least 328 dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Since then, the country has been going through a political and economic crisis, which has been aggravated by the pandemic, and the renewal of electoral judges opens a window for the “improvement” of the situation, Aguerri pointed out.
The selection process for new candidates will last about two weeks.
The Legislative Assembly, where the ruling party has a large majority of 70 of the 91 legislators, approved the creation of a Special Constitutional Commission of seven members, most of them official, to analyze the candidacies and study “the electoral aspects”, without specifying if it was referring to a reform.
The opposition and different Nicaraguan civil sectors have been demanding for years the approval of a reform that guarantees fair and transparent elections, given the allegations of fraud made by the opposition in the regional and national elections held since 2008.
Among the requests is the elimination of the successive presidential re-election or to allow greater participation of political organizations in the processes.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has threatened since 2019 to apply to Nicaragua the Democratic Charter for refusing to restore public freedoms, the rule of law, and closing political spaces for participation.
The Ortega government has considered the allegations “interference” in its internal affairs.
In the last three years, the United States has sanctioned 27 high-ranking Nicaraguan officials and nine public and mixed entities whom it points out as violating human rights and corruption.
“Seeing that the election of candidates for electoral magistrates will be made by the National Assembly, I am afraid that it will not mean any substantial change,” Ernesto Medina, advisor to the opposition National Coalition bloc, told AFP. “We know that Ortega has an interest in keeping things as they are with cosmetic changes.”
Ortega’s strategy, according to his adversaries, is to neutralize the independent NGOs, controlling the contributions they receive and forcing their closure with extreme regulations.
It could also resort to a rule that sanctions and inhibits those who incite foreign interference or applaud sanctions against the country from running for public office.
In 2017, an OAS observation mission recommended that Nicaragua promote an electoral reform “that provides greater confidence and security to political forces and citizens,” a request it reiterated in October 2020.
Ortega’s supporters – who ruled during the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s, returned to power in 2006, and was reelected in 2011 and 2016 – do not rule out that the 75-year-old president is running for a fourth successive term.
The opposition, for its part, seeks against the clock to overcome internal intrigues to unite around an electoral coalition, amid the siege that the government maintains against its leaders.
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“The opposition has no strategy and the lack of unity” affects them, Medina believes.
At least eight opponents, including Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, have expressed their aspiration to confront Ortega.