TODAY NICARAGUA – Why did Daniel Ortega bother holding elections when everyone knew they were a sham, starting with him and his co-president Murillo? It is a question with several answers, not necessarily mutually exclusive.
I choose this: Ortega needed them to give a cloak of legitimacy to his regime.
By legitimacy, I understand the recognition of their right to rule in Nicaragua, or, at least, the acquiescence to do so. I have no doubt that, given a choice, he would have skipped the election, but as a cynical realist that he is, he understands that he has no other way to justify his remaining in power.
If he had had a strong and organized party, like the Chinese Communist Party, it would have been enough for him to be appointed by the Central Committee. If it had been a monarchy, he would have said that he has the divine right to rule. However, he does not have a god or a party on his side, so he went to the electoral pantomime.
He has several things that work in his favor. He is still on the offensive: he surprised by imprisoning opposition candidates and then opening the polls as if nothing had happened.
He faces a fragmented opposition, in eternal internal litigation and without a project of national unity. He knows that the “affordable” are always at hand: just throw them a few pesos to make them participate in the farce. He has the army and the police muddy, and many there understand that they will do quite badly if he falls.
Finally, he knows that large Latin American countries such as Argentina and Mexico will play dumb, which opens a space for survival. The support of Russia and China weakens the international isolation.
Costa Rica, Chile, the United States and the European Union did well in not recognizing these elections as legitimate. However, it is not enough: the dictator is still there.
Every day in power is a triumph for him, who will now play the game of wear and tear. Perhaps he will provoke an international incident to forge an internal national unity or he will selectively try to bargain with some powerful businessmen. Hopefully, he doesn’t succeed..
The sanctions on the regime can be escalated, but they do not guarantee a happy ending “per se”. The key is the opposition: if it unites around a program, a leadership and a message, it will turn popular indifference into a force for change and this will produce fissures in the regime, which would be the end of Ortega.
This article by Jorge Vargas Cullell was originally published in Spanish in La Nación and translated and adapted by the Q Media.