TODAY NICARAGUA – On September 25, when the “electoral campaign” for the November 7 voting officially began, the account @GG_Gasparin of Gerson Gutiérrez Gasparin, presidential candidate of the Alliance for the Republic (Apre), was created on Twitter, one of five parties registered on the electoral ballot together with the ruling Sandinista Front.
Gutiérrez’s first publication on that social network was a video retweeted from Apre’s account, in which he introduced himself to Nicaraguans. Six days later, his tweet had no reaction: not a like, not a comment or retweet. Nothing.
Gutiérrez is also present on other social networks such as: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but his number of followers is barely a dozen and the messages he shares are limited.
In its first weeks, its most far-reaching event was a live broadcast carried out on September 30, through Apre’s Facebook page, whose fanpage was also resumed on September 24 (one day before the start of the campaign), after a year of publishing absolutely nothing. The “record” for video views was 430.
However, Apre’s candidate is the only one of the six candidates for the presidency of Nicaragua, registered in the CSE, which stood out on all social networks, with the start of the campaign.
President Daniel Ortega, who cleared the way for his fourth consecutive presidential term, is also not on any social network, despite the fact that this year the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) directed a “virtual” electoral campaign, without mass rallies or party caravans, due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Of the other four registered candidates, only one has a personal profile on Facebook and another has less than a dozen followers on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Experts in political communication, digital communication analysts and politicians with experience in electoral campaigns, value that “there was no” electoral campaign in Nicaragua and neither was the intention of the participating political parties, all necessary collaborators of the Sandinista Front, perceived to promote your candidates and your campaign proposals.
Some of these parties have complained about the lack of funding for the “electoral campaign”, but they also do not use digital media, which are economically more accessible than traditional media.
Specialists assure that in an electoral process with guarantees and competence, the political parties should have made “noise” on social networks, but the absence of that campaign, which officially closed on November 3, is a sign of the atypical Nicaraguan process, a in charge of a collapsed electoral system under the control of the FSLN, which is demanded not to be recognized by the international community.
“They are ghost parties”
The journalist and specialist in political communication, Mildred Largaespada, explains that currently, the political debate on social networks in Nicaragua revolves around “participating or not” in the November 7 vote and not on the CSE candidates for the presidency, that are practically unknown.
The evidence is in the lack of interest in the electoral process after the imprisonment of the seven candidates opposed to the presidency and the cancellation of the legal status of the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD) and Citizens for Freedom (CxL), identified as the opposition vehicles, today imprisoned, exiled or besieged.
The president of Hagamos Democracia and former councilman of the Mayor’s Office of Managua, Luciano García, points out that normally political parties prepare up to a year before for their electoral campaign, regardless of the electoral calendar of the CSE.
Currently in Nicaragua “there is no normal process,” he warns. The participants “are not opponents, they are collaborationist parties that are lending themselves to carry out an electoral process adjusted to the measure of the regime,” underlines the politician, exiled before the Ortega persecution.
In addition, García believes that the candidates for the presidency lack leadership and economic resources, but — because they are historical collaborators of the FSLN — they are in contention to “give it a tinge of inclusion”, demand reimbursements from the CSE and obtain some deputations in the National Assembly.
“It is not an electoral process but an allocation process in accordance with the regime’s strategy, of course, without putting at risk the total control of the Assembly, much less the Presidency,” he emphasizes.
Largaespada exemplifies that the social network most used by the Nicaraguan population is Facebook, but “only three people like” the few publications of political parties on that network. They are “ghost parties,” she maintains.
In addition, it points out that, when a person sympathizes with a candidate or political party, “they look for it and follow it through a social network”, but this does not happen in Nicaragua, because most of the political parties are not prepared for the electoral campaign, they do not have social networks and those who do have networks do not have supporters,” he details.
The Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), which agreed with Ortega at the end of the nineties to divide up the powers of the State, only has two Facebook pages, one institutional and the other of its presidential candidate Walter Espinoza.
The Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) also has a Facebook page, but until the first weeks of the start of the “campaign” it had not had any publication since 2017, and the indigenous regional party, Yapti Tasba Masraka Nani Asla Takanka (Yatama or Hijos de Mother Earth, translated from the Miskito language into Spanish) also has her posts on Facebook stunned. From the Nicaraguan Christian Way (CCN) party, no social media accounts were identified.
In contrast, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) “is organized,” Largaespada warns.
Although Ortega does not have personal networks, behind him there is a whole “network of propagandists on Twitter, Facebook and TikTok”, which continues despite the fact that this week the company that owns Facebook, Meta, canceled more than 900 accounts identified as a “troll farms”, which operated from various State institutions, including Telcor, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security.
In addition, the FSLN and Ortega have at their disposal all the traditional means of communication that their family has acquired in the last decade, although less than half of Nicaraguans listen to the daily monologues of Ortega’s wife, vice president and spokeswoman for the regime. Rosario Murillo, or the radio and television networks ordered by Ortega.
Without knowledge and without will
The lawyer and former opposition legislators, Eliseo Núñez Morales, who was head of the electoral campaign in the 2011 elections in which radio businessman Fabio Gadea Mantilla ran, explained that a political campaign is divided into three stages: the first thing is to make known to the candidate, then the electoral offer is disseminated and ultimately trying to convince the voter.
However, an analyst in digital communication who requested anonymity for security reasons, asks “do the remaining political parties really want to compete and want to play an opposition role?”
Most of these political parties and their candidates, he adds, “have neither popularity nor good reputations.” It is for this reason that it is more favorable for them to “not have a presence” on social networks, than to “have it and that has a negative rebound effect” since digital media allow interaction with citizens and “improvising would be even awkward,” he stresses.
The scant propaganda on the networks also indicates that political parties “do not want to have a leading role and do not want to compete, they do not want to do what every political party should be, which is to fight for power through elections,” warns the analyst.
Read more: Nicaragua’s Election A Farce of Democracy
The lack of resources also weighs on the collaborationist parties, which are also in the minority. Prior to the opening of the electoral campaign, parties such as CCN, PLI and the PLC complained about the lack of financing from private banks. So “they have to prioritize the expenses to be made within the campaign,” explains the analyst. In these cases, “the electoral line takes you the majority of the budget” and “when you don’t want to win, then the campaign is the last thing you leave,” he emphasizes.
The cost of an electoral campaign depends on the goals that each political party has, points out the analyst. On social media alone, a three-month campaign is valued at between US$25,000 and US$75,000. However, the parties can do it – even – with their own communication teams, but if they do not have they are obliged to look for advisers or companies that are dedicated to communication and publicity, because “they have neither experience nor knowledge of how to carry out a campaign. electoral online,” he adds.
The analyst also indicates that in Nicaragua most advertising companies “prefer not to get involved with any political party,” but in any campaign, on social networks, the price depends on the number of communication products that are made. “It is not the same that within your campaign you devise a whole media plan … in which you have to pay for the spot and airtime” as a short campaign on social networks.
The FSLN “is not improvising”
Contrary to the collaborationist parties, the ruling FSLN has all the means and resources to carry out an electoral campaign. Although its candidates, Ortega and Murillo, “no longer need it,” warns the digital communication analyst.
“The candidate (of the FSLN) has been a candidate for 40 years, he no longer needs to say something to get votes, especially because we already know the captive vote that the party in power has,” says the analyst. The same happens with the vice presidential candidate, who “does not need social networks because for that she has all the media satellites that are the diffusers of her messages (newspapers),” he adds.
For his part, Largaespada values that the FSLN propaganda network in social networks “has been weakened” since 2018 and that “they only follow each other”, since the majority of the blue and white population began to block the accounts in protest. against the Government of Ortega y Murillo.
For the analyst, the FSLN “remains with the traditional formats”, such as speeches, public events of the different State institutions or the daily monologues of the vice president. So, social networks are a kind of umbrella for the dissemination of their messages. This is an electoral contest whose campaigns “we could compare them like ant against elephant”, he estimates.
Ortega appeared in public only three times in this unusual electoral campaign. He made no campaign promises, nor did he announce new development policies, investments, or projects. In those three interventions, he did what he always did: attack those who oppose him, mandate the radio and television network to see and listen to him and incidentally, violate the Electoral Law by political proselytizing with State resources.
His first outing in the electoral campaign was on October 4, as part of an act to commemorate the birth of Benjamin Zeledón. In that act, the president who controls the Electoral Power, assured that the elections will be held “in conditions of peace”, complained about the international sanctions against his regime and accused the bishops of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference (CEN) of being “terrorists” and accomplices of an alleged “coup attempt” against him.
His second outing was on October 25, when, through another radio and television station, he participated in the delivery of 250 buses to Managua’s collective transport cooperatives, which are loyal to Ortega. On that occasion, he spoke for just over 30 minutes to thank the Russian Federation for the transport units, although he did not explain whether they were donated or acquired through credit.
Finally, Ortega made his last “campaign” outing on October 27, on another radio and television network, to announce the signing of a border delimitation treaty with Juan Orlando Hernández, president of Honduras and who is in the final phase of his Government.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by The Q Media