Before the Night Gets Much Darker…
With a future boding darker than ever, Nicaragua’s
political class seems once again to be choosing the abyss.
The government is persisting in its errors, and the political elite
in the opposition can’t or won’t recognize the errors that got us into this mess.
The opposition has no project and appears unable to come up with proposals
that could force the government to react or inspire the population.
Will we find some way out of this… before night falls?
On Saturday, February 28, a dozen civic organizations organized street demonstrations in eight Nicaraguan cities “against the electoral fraud, the dictatorship and hunger.” The slogan constantly repeated in the protests was, “Where’s my vote?”
People didn’t forget about the fraudThose responsible for the fraud banked on short memories, which is a mechanism of evasion, survival and resignation that has always worked well in Nicaragua. But this time, four months after the elections, the electoral fraud that triggered such national ill will and an international scandal has not been off stage for a single day since last November. The populations of the most affected municipalities haven’t let go of it and the opposition leadership, the media and the international community are consistently keeping the memory alive. Each time the government has tried to close the wound, counseling that “we have to look forward,” the opposition opens it back up, arguing that “we’ll never accept that what was stolen stays stolen,” while the international community is insisting on democratic and transparent governance.
A smoking gun?A tape released in mid-February appears to confirm both the electoral fraud organized by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and former Liberal President Arnoldo Alemán’s complicity in it. It contains a recording of a conversation between Ramira Silva, a legislative representative of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and Jairo Umaña, an ex-municipal election monitor for the same party, shortly after the polls closed last November 9. The ALN was founded by Eduardo Montealegre but early last year the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) turned it over to a Liberal who has acted in a clear alliance with the FSLN and Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), i.e. with the bipartite pact.
Silva can be heard saying, “There’s already an agreement between Daniel and Arnoldo. Come what may, the [Supreme Electoral] Council isn’t going to give it [the Managua mayor’s office] to him [Eduardo Montealegre].... If the PLC [on whose ticket Montealegre was running] had five votes they’d take away two, and if the FSLN had three they’d give it two. That’s how the calculation was designed….
The total numbers, Jairo, show Eduardo winning by only 0.7%; that’s the reality. I called Ricardo and said to him, ‘Look, we’re losing by 0.7% and that margin, which is so minimal for them [the FSLN] lets them [manipulate the results], right? And they’ve done it; let’s face it, they did it well. Because to detect the intelligence they had last night was incredible, incredible, incredible. The whole State Security was there [in Managua’s vote counting center]. Yeah, the whole State Security.”
It seems Silva was unaware someone was carrying a hidden tape recorder. At first he acknowledged his voice and words, but later denied everything, while Alemán made light of the tape’s contents.
Hope for a peaceful protestThe population’s outrage at the fraud committed in nearly a quarter of the municipal elections encouraged the organizers to attempt the protest. The extremely difficult economic situation the government now finds itself in, aggravated by international cooperation’s freezing of aid in response to the fraud, led them to believe it wouldn’t use its shock forces to disrupt the demonstrations this time, as it did repeatedly last year. If the government still refused to rectify what it cooked up in the ballot count, they hoped, it might at least seize the opportunity to clean up its public image and rectify its behavior in the streets.
Wrong. A week before the scheduled marches, President Daniel Ortega personally called on the FSLN membership to kick off the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the 1979 revolution that same Saturday and keep it up till July. Not by coincidence, the celebrations were limited to the same eight cities where the opposition had announced its demonstrations. And to a large extent, it wasn’t party sympathizers who turned out to celebrate as much as state workers forced to show up or risk losing their jobs. The official discourse is that “the armed people” must defend the “revolution” in the streets, which “belong to the people,” in order to stop those who want to “overthrow the government.” By definition, only government supporters are “the people.”
The marches painted a Of the eight marches, violence prevailed in three: Jinotega, Chinandega and León. In Jinotega, the pro-government groups sent out against the opposition were led by its FSLN mayor Leónidas Centeno, who is also accused of corruption. In León, armed and hooded youths were out in the streets well before the march was scheduled to intimidate anyone tempted to participate. Fear reined and the event was tiny.
dismal portrait of the country
But the greatest violence was in the municipality of Chinandega, where accusations of fraud were particularly strong. The disturbances were caused by pro-government groups armed with rocks and home-made mortars that surrounded some 500 demonstrators. Luis Callejas, a Liberal legislator from the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement, and a former FSLN mayor both sustained head injuries from the shower of stones, while a government sympathizer lost an eye. Another 50 people received more minor wounds. Days later, Callejas filed charges with the police against the departmental delegate of the Health Ministry, the secretary of the local mayor’s office and a union leader from the pro-government National Workers’ Front for having led the shock groups.
The National Police stood by passively as the official violence was unleashed in both León and Chinandega. Even though the use of mortars is prohibited by law, the officers present—120 in the case of Chinandega—stopped no one from using them and made no arrests.
Although there was also some violence in Managua, it was minimal compared to the vandalism unleashed on government orders in the week or so following the November elections. In Teustepe, Ometepe and Juigalpa there were no significant clashes and in Masaya the march took place without a hitch.
In none of the demonstrations was the opposition participation as massive as expected and announced by the opposition media. Only some three thousand people in Managua, a thousand in Masaya and a few hundred in each of the other cities braved the climate of fear, painting a dismal but fairly faithful portrait of what’s happening in the country today.
What does that portrait show us? That the electoral fraud isn’t being forgotten. That the worsening economic situation has the government on the defensive, moderating its discourse but not rectifying its behavior. That the opposition leadership hasn’t managed to cob together a credible, inspiring or convincing proposal around which to organize the growing unhappiness of a good part of the population. That the media—the leftwing El Nuevo Diario included—are expressing the opposition better than the people or the opposition leaders. That there are more organizers than organized in the opposition. That there isn’t the remotest capacity to bring down the government (although it’s also not clear that doing so is an aspiration of any more than a handful of people). That the government’s vote-buying social projects are working in its favor. And that, despite everything, the country is still socially stable, although economically night could fall at any moment.
Keep fighting to correctOn February 23, the Ethics and Transparency Civic Group (E&T), which was arbitrarily excluded from observing the elections, released its final report on the November 9 elections (reprinted in this issue), thus helping feed people’s memory with relevant information. Days after its publication, however, E&T director Roberto Courtney cautioned against trying to reverse the results in the 33 municipalities the report listed as affected by the fraud. Given the multiple stratagems used by electoral officials and government party operators in each municipality, he explained, the undertaking would be tedious, complex and costly, not to mention nearly impossible. Although Courtney didn’t refer specifically to Managua, it would surely be an exception because of the abundant documentary proof and because the theft of the elections was massive and crudely executed (with 30% of the ballot boxes still absent from the official count). But Managua is also obviously the last municipal government Ortega has any intention of giving up.
the fraud or move on?
Courtney has instead encouraged the opposition to concentrate on demanding a thoroughgoing reform of the exclusionary Electoral Law and a transformation of the whole electoral structure to ensure that the 2011 general elections will be held under other rules with other arbiters. It’s a pragmatic, reasonable position that would imply reformulating the focus of the opposition strategy. Will it happen?
A proposal for moving onOn March 5, the Electoral Reforms Promotion Group, made up of 14 civil society organizations, called on the Nicaraguan population to demand that politicians resolve the crisis triggered by the electoral fraud, which led to the suspension of millions of dollars in international cooperation. In line with Courtney’s suggestion, the group proposed the “immediate resignation or dismissal” of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) magistrates, whose term officially ends in 2010, and the reform of the electoral law, without involving the Constitution to avoid opening the door to the changes President Ortega wants to make in it. Mauricio Zúñiga, director of the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), one of all the electoral observation groups the CSE refused to accredit for the municipal elections, said during the press conference that “the solution depends on the politicians’ will and leadership. November’s fraud was a political decision conceived ahead of time between the PLC and FSLN leaders, and there are documents to prove it. The solution also depends on them. There’s no reason to wait until the current magistrates’ term ends for the National Assembly, which puts them there and removes them, to make a decision to resolve the crisis the country is going through.” The box on the following page contains their proposal.
What are the chances of reforming the Electoral Law?A reform of the Electoral Law and changes in the now thoroughly discredited Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) are also cards the Ortega government has brought to the negotiations with international cooperation. Its hope is that the representatives of the countries that suspended their aid in the post-electoral crisis and/or are considering pulling out of Nicaragua altogether will simmer down, forget the fraud and renew the aid flow.
Is there any similarity between what Courtney and the Electoral Reforms Promotion Group have in mind and what the FSLN would offer in this reform, or what the electoral authorities would be willing to let Ortega negotiate, to calm the national and international indignation?
Both the law and the current key CSE personnel were among the first fruits of the Alemán-Ortega pact, conceived and developed to consolidate a bipartite system and ensure a long life in power for both leaders and their parties, to the exclusion of all others. But after a decade of the pact, both the law and the electoral branch of government have ended up almost exclusively favoring the FSLN’s interests, leaving the PLC “defenseless,” as the November fraud so unequivocally showed.
It’s also fair to ask what the PLC would negotiate and give up in the eventuality of an electoral reform. After all, there’s evidence of complicity by Alemán and two of the three Liberal CSE magistrates in the November fraud, leading to the expulsion of the latter two from the PLC. While Alemán is now a very junior partner in the pact, Ortega can’t push through any electoral or other constitutional-rank reform through the National Assembly without a handful of votes from legislators loyal to him, which still gives Alemán some clout in any negotiations.
Would the reform include opening the door to reelection?Given the Electoral Law’s constitutional rank, Ortega is trusting that the debate about its reform would open the door to a constitutional reform as well, which he urgently wants in order to perpetuate himself in power. As it stands, the Constitution only allows a President one reelection, and then only after sitting out at least one term. The reform Ortega wants would both make it legal for him to be reelected indefinitely and change the country’s political system from a presidentialist to a parliamentary one. In such a system, Ortega let it be known earlier this year, both the prime minister and the head of state would be elected by the majority party, not direct popular suffrage, thus consolidating the bipartite system in a new mold. Both Ortega and Alemán have voiced their support for a parliamentary structure because it would “deepen democracy.” Meanwhile Alemán, who has already made clear his intention to run for reelection in 2011, hasn’t come out against unlimited reelection because, with all other parties stunted, bought off or eliminated, he envisions alternating in power with Ortega so long as they both shall live.
In an interview with British journalist David Frost aired in early March on Al Jazeera, the Arab TV channel, Ortega, while failing to get all of his historical details quite right, spoke openly about his plans: “The Constitution was reformed in 1995 by a right-wing government to avoid reelection. In part it was to deny people the right to elect their authorities as they would like. Since 1996 we have been feeling the need to change this again in Nicaragua, to establish what we call ‘direct democracy.’ That means that the citizens of our country could exercise direct democracy. And we strongly feel the need to do away with the presidentialist system and make way for a parliamentary system that doesn’t have these limitations for successive election, one in which there’s no inhibition to the reelection of authorities….”
“If God grants me life”This is the first interview President Ortega has given to any journalist in his two years in office, and never has he been so clear. “I share the principle that people have the right to elect their candidates or not,” he told Frost. “If the candidate represents their interests, they will elect that person. If the candidate doesn’t represent their interests, they won’t. I completely support that position: that people have the right to elect the candidate of their choice, and obstacles that deny them that right shouldn’t exist. Now that we’re back in government, if God grants me life and conditions permit, yes, I will run for President again, and if [the conditions] aren’t present, then I’d be fine acting as prime minister and then run again for President…. My mother lived 97 years. And I hope to live long enough to contribute to this new stage of the revolution’s development.”
In their speeches the President and his spokespeople have already started talking about “winning” the 2011 elections: “Everything we’re doing is now electoral; we have to ensure the 2011 platform.”
More moderation since JanuaryBy the time the electoral fraud was implemented, the world economic crisis had already exploded and there was plenty of evidence of its magnitude and devastating consequences for Nicaragua. The price of oil was also dropping, implying a reduction in the resources that President Chávez sends Nicaragua through various channels, including Venezuela’s oil bill, one portion of which is paid within 90 days, another is long-term debt and yet another is treated as aid to social projects. While no information is available about the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars from Venezuela that Ortega has administered at his own discretion for the past two years, the obvious assumption is that they have been used both to create a family fortune and—given that “everything he does is electoral”—to finance a social base built on handout social projects.
Although the government was already keeping an eye on the approaching shadow of the world crisis, it didn’t give up on its planned fraud to win a minimum of 100 municipal mayoral seats, at least partly to cast off the albatross of only governing with 38% of the presidential vote. Ortega seems not to have contemplated the possible consequences of pushing international cooperation’s tolerance over the edge. Was it irresponsibility, arrogance, political autism or over-confidence in the inexhaustibility of Venezuelan’s resources?
Not until January did the government seem to take on board the economic effect of its decision and dial down the more strident quality of its discourse and actions. And it was none too soon. With the world economic crisis already battering the fragile foundations of Nicaragua’s economy, the international reaction to the fraud could cause it to founder. In the following article, Nicaraguan economist Arturo Grigsby enumerates the first blows Nicaragua is feeling from the global crisis and analyzes the possible courses of future action by international cooperation.
The fraud’s economic While unwilling to give up any of the 105 mayoral seats “won” in November, the government is under pressure to reverse the economic consequences of that “victory.” Among other such consequences, the undisbursed funds from the US Millennium Challenge Account, some $60 million, were frozen soon after the elections. While President Ortega first stated that Nicaragua would be “freer” if the rumors came true and that program left the country, adding that Venezuela would pick up the tab for its projects, none other than National Assembly President René Núñez felt pressed in February to personally ask the Account’s administrator not to abandon the country.
Likewise, after the President and several of his top officials and spokespeople offended representatives of European Union countries without ever apologizing, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos flew to Brussels in March to get the EU to reestablish its frozen cooperation with Nicaragua.
The countries and institutions in the Budgetary Support Group (known as GAP, its inadvertantly apt Spanish acronym)—in which the EU countries have the strongest representation—had been consistently warning that the budget might be frozen even before the elections, as the pro-FSLN skew in the electoral organization became increasingly evident. “Growing concern has arisen about the issue of free and fair elections and about recent tensions with respect to the actions of civil society” said a GAP spokesperson as early as October 2007, when the government ratcheted up its harassment of a number of NGOs.
Almost six months later, on March 3, just before Santos’ trip, the European Union ratified its decision to suspend the budgetary support assistance “based on growing concern about the country’s political evolution, particularly but not exclusively related to the preparation and eventual development of the municipal elections of November 9, 2008.”
The cards in the government’s handThe gaping hole in the 2009 budget left by the GAP is US$109 million ($40 million in loans and $69 million in donations, of which the EU and 29 other European countries put in $40 million), without counting the suspended 2008 budget support funds not yet disbursed because of the freeze. If, in addition, the Millennium Challenge Account ultimately withdraws from Nicaragua, another US$65 million in strategic infrastructure works would be lost. The pro-government media have blamed Eduardo Montealegre, Liberal runner-up in the 2006 presidential elections and loser in last year’s fraud-riddled Managua municipal elections, for the cut in aid to Nicaragua, attributing to him greater influence than he has.
Knowing the different opinions and options being floated within the European conglomerate, the government is putting its money on two cards: 1) that some countries will be sufficiently moved by the plight of the country and by seeing the “results achieved so far in the fight against poverty” that they won’t leave, and 2) others will stay in order not to lose influence in the country or “leave Ortega with his hands totally free.” These two cards were laid out in so many words by Nicaraguan Central Bank President Antenor Rosales, who normally distances himself from President Ortega’s confrontational anti-cooperation discourse. His periodic declarations are one of the most visible signs of the tensions and contradictions between the minimally two power groups that coexist in the government.
At the same time Foreign Minister Santos was in Brussels presenting the European Commission with a project of electoral, judicial and tax reforms as bait to entice back the European benevolence, President Ortega announced in Managua that he will invite all the country’s social and productive forces—and “at some point” all the political forces—to a national dialogue. He again made clear, however, that it would exclude the issue of the electoral results.
The only brakeThe critical economic situation is so far the only thing that has somewhat muted the Ortega-Murillo government’s hard-line discourse. The 2009 budget is sorely underfinanced and hasn’t even been approved yet. The government’s austerity measures are clearly insufficient to respond to what is already happening and to the forecasts. The world economic crisis is beginning to be felt more intensely each week in the drop of exports, reduction of family remittances from Nicaragua’s emigrants and lower tax collection due to the fall in sales and contraction of all economic activity.
One sign to donors Two changes in the strident official discourse against European cooperation appeared in February. The first was in President Ortega’s February 20 speech to inaugurate Managua’s new waste water treatment plant. This huge work has been Germany’s star project in Nicaragua and is finally finished after the work done by the three preceding governments.
and another to an NGO
Assuming a statesmanlike posture generally absent from the discourse of Nicaraguan politicians, Ortega praised the “extraordinary and determinant” work of international cooperation, and even recognized his predecessor: “This was a work taken on by different governments,” said the President. “Halfway through the Bolaños government they laid the first stone, and now I say to don Enrique: Here we’re laying the last stone.”
The other change was related not only to the way the government treats cooperation but also to the desire for control that has characterized the President, depriving his government of resources and increasing its inefficiency.
Emergency, an Italian nongovernmental organization committed to a maternal-infant hospital project for the city of León, left the country after failing to reach an understanding with Nicaragua’s Health Ministry. Although it had signed an agreement with the ministry under the Bolaños government to build, equip and manage the hospital, and had initiated the construction work, the current ministry wanted to impose norms that would deprive the NGO of its autonomy in the clinical, administrative and technical management of the hospital once it was built and functioning. The idea had been that management would be turned over to the ministry after 10 years.
The work was valued at 4 million euros and would have had 100 beds and would have provided jobs for 250 Nicaraguan doctors, nurses, specialist, technicians and service personnel. Emergency decided to withdraw the project, stating that it wasn’t a construction company, but specialized in hospital planning and management. As that was its contribution and was being contravened, it had no interest in continuing in Nicaragua.
Given the country’s health care shortages, this logically caused quite a scandal in the media, leading Rosario Murillo to issue a communiqué giving the NGO full autonomy so it would reconsider its decision and return.
What is “direct democracy”?These outreach efforts don’t mean the Ortega-Murillo government has given up on setting up its “direct democracy” political project based on the Councils of Citizen’s Power, which are increasingly empowered by the spaces given them in many of the mayor’s offices “won” by the FSLN. News is beginning to emerge of new conflicts sparked by rivalries between the CPCs and other community organizations or by arbitrary actions of the minority CPCs in their treatment of the rest of the population.
The government has linked the CPCs to the real social benefits that have won it support among the poorest population—free eye operations by Cuban doctors, free specialized attention in the public hospitals, scholarships to study medicine in Cuba, medical brigades in remote areas—presenting them as community activists and initiators of direct democracy. But they are actually only conveyor belts for the official lines emanating from the presidential offices.
The FSLN abandoned the political education of its base over the years in which it ceased being a political party with ideals and ethics and became an electoral machine and negotiator of direct power with the government in office. And this is the result. To neutralize the widespread perception that the CPCs have replaced the old FSLN, the government announced a campaign it has titled, “We’re millions,” in which it will give any applicant an FSLN membership card. The goal for Managua is to issue 200,000 new cards.
Confusing interests createdWhat remains of the FSLN of the eighties? In this second round of the FSLN in government, state, governmental, party and family interests have become increasingly blurred.
In March, it was announced that Venezuelan business interests had invested millions in purchasing the Chiltepe dairy complex and Managua’s Seminole Hotel. While it is claimed that these are private businesses, they are reportedly administered by FSLN functionaries with top government officials as stockholders.
The confusion of interests peaks in the whole issue of ownership, legal identity, administration, benefits and public debt of the new investments in the strategic energy industry (electricity plants, oil storage tanks, oil prospecting, import of crude…), all of which is fed by Venezuelan resources and ALBA funds, the use of which continues to be discretionary and has never been transparent.
The incorporation of the Venezuelan resources into the budget so they can become public knowledge controlled by the National Assembly is one of the most reasonable proposals made to balance the national budget.
Can so much dispersed malaise find common cause?Given such a grim situation, the organized opposition is weak and contradictory. It’s wearing itself out with the electoral discourse of “all against Ortega,” the charge of “incipient dictatorship,” the dramatic slogan that “Ortega and Somoza are the same thing,” and the call for “democracy” without explaining how it is linked to economic justice.
There’s growing malaise among the population that didn’t vote for Daniel Ortega for President then voted for Liberal candidates in 2008, either out of conviction or only to oppose the FSLN candidates, especially in urban zones where there’s more information and the economic crisis is felt more strongly. But it’s a malaise in which people are reduced to indignant observers of the media charges constantly eroding the government’s credibility. As someone once said, the role of serfs is to complain; the role of citizens is to organize to propose something else.
Might the malaise also be growing among state workers who have lost lunch and transport per diems in the austerity measures decreed by the government in January? Will it also grow among state employees habitually pressured to answer the official call to go fill plazas and traffic circles, raise banners and shout slogans, contributing to the media sensation of grassroots support in the portable flower gardens arranged by the first lady for the President’s speeches?
State sector layoffs, forced by the economic crisis, are being decided under strict party criteria, not professional ones, which is also generating ill will among those who lose their jobs. Can so much dispersed malaise find common cause?
Where’s big business in all this?Is there also malaise in big business circles? They naturally resent the erosion of the government’s international credibility and Nicaragua’s rise in the country risk ranking, but they are largely compensating this concern with well-grounded pragmatism.
They know Daniel Ortega hasn’t changed the rules of the game on them; he’s not expropriating their properties like Chávez, for example. But above all they know that no one can guarantee social control better than Ortega, given the havoc the economic crisis is starting to wreak on the grassroots economy.
They know that if Eduardo Montealegre were governing and had to deal with the crisis, Ortega could get his organized base to set the country on fire, raising a thousand and one social demands. They are therefore cautious, making do; adopting a wait and see attitude. The option of a general strike by both business and labor called for by a sector of the opposition to change the course of the country will only happen in their dreams.
Alemán vs. MontealegreThe Liberal opposition is more profoundly divided than ever. After the fast-fizzling fireworks of the February creation of the Democratic Opposition Coalition (CDO) in Río Blanco, in which even one of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle’s nephews participated, Eduardo Montealegre officially dissolved his “We’re Going with Eduardo” movement on February 23 to bring it under the banner and legal status of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI). Then began the task of massively affiliating the movement’s sympathizers to the 64-year-old party to give it new energy and rebuild the grassroots structures it once had.
On the other side of the Liberal street, the PLC is working equally hard to regroup its rank-and-file base, with the target of closing 2009 with 180,000 members and of reaching 600,000, its all-time high-water mark of voters, by the time the 2011 presidential campaign rolls around. Both groups are affiliating Liberals and calling on them to work for unity, aspiring to do so at the other’s expense. Both are fanning their rivalries and talk only of the next elections, wrangling over who will have more votes. What neither of them is doing is presenting any program.
What power remains in Alemán’s hands? Arnoldo Alemán remains a power factor within Liberalism thanks to his return to the fray, now free of his conviction on corruption charges, his lead role in his party’s maneuvers and his announced presidential candidacy for 2011. The PLC’s tradition as a party of bought loyalties ensures Alemán continued followers because he ensures perks, posts and power to those who follow him despite the further erosion caused by the evidence of his complicity in November’s fraud.
To feed the rivalry with Montealegre at the base and among his own followers, Alemán is ensuring everyone he talks to that the FSLN “is going after Eduardo” to try him for the case of the allegedly illicit CENI bank bailout bonds. This would remove him from the political stage—assuming he actually serves his sentence in prison if convicted, unlike Alemán ever had to do—leaving the coast clear for Alemán as the only Liberal leader. While he’s at it, Alemán boasts of being the only one the FSLN is really afraid of.
Alemán’s active presence in politics is maintaining a division among many grassroots Liberals that’s more emotional than ideological. Whatever its nature, however, the Liberal split was the factor that gave Ortega the presidency and is indispensable for him to get the votes he needs from the PLC legislative bench for his constitutional reforms. It’s also essential if he’s to get an electoral victory in 2011 and even in future elections despite his party being an electoral minority in the country.
The MRS’ challengeOn the other side of the Sandinista street, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) has lost momentum and visibility after its powerful response to the CSE’s arbitrary elimination of it from the municipal electoral race last year. The continuing personal closeness of 2006 MRS presidential candidate Edmundo Jarquín to Eduardo Montealegre helps confuse the project the MRS had or wants to have, by its similarity to that of non-Alemán Liberals who claim to be “democratic.”
The MRS has not yet fleshed out its political proposal with alternative content or exploited the opportunity the economic crisis and the FSLN’s ethical crisis are opening up for “another” Sandinismo. To inspire a youth potentially attracted to another way of conducting politics, it’s not enough to list the similarities between the governments of Ortega and Somoza or to hold marches and street demonstrations. What’s needed is a presence, a daily anonymous insertion in poor neighborhoods and rural areas to sow an alternative discourse, a different program. That’s what the FSLN did in the seventies and eighties, and it’s still reaping the benefits, despite having gone way off that original course.
The FSLN and the PLC built the pact stone by stone, have consolidated it over 10 years and added new elements to the structure in the last electoral race. It did so by taking advantage of the lack of any alternative economic and political project that could link the struggle for democratic institutionality to efforts to ensure social equality. Working in that direction assumes the resignation of some to make way for credible, exemplary, inspiring and inclusionary leaders. Where are the leaders to properly head up such an alternative project?
How can we rely on today’s family and religious values?Nicaragua’s future is looking uncertain and grim. We have to do something before this long night gets any darker. Something different. It’s a bit unnerving to hear so many government officials, anti-government political leaders, institutional directors, journalists and opinion-makers argue for the recovering of family and religious values to overcome such a complex national crisis. Some even propose the Bible as an infallible recipe.
It’s unnerving because a large majority of families in Nicaragua are profoundly anti-democratic nests of authoritarianism and sexual abuse and because most people’s religiosity consists of resignation and trust in divine interventions to either obtain miracles or “prosper.”
Something differentWe need to do and promote something different. Einstein, who taught us to view time and space so differently than almost everyone else understood it in his time, once said that we can’t expect things to change if we always do the same thing.
Won’t the national dialogue, which the government is presenting as a way back from the edge of the abyss, be more of “the same thing” we’ve always done in previous critical circumstances? Couldn’t the opposition in its different forms join together and force things along to make this dialogue something different? Or to make something different out of this dialogue?
The government has the main responsibility for doing something different, but the organized opposition and the population as a whole have a responsibility as well, whether they still trust in the government or have given up on and detest it.
Einstein also said that creativity is born of anguish as day is born of the dark night. He trusted in crisis because “invention, discoveries and grand strategies are born in crisis.” Will the FSLN and the opposition form a critical mass anguished enough to be creative, to invent and design strategies, before night falls?
The Electoral Reforms Promotion Group’s
proposal to resolve the crisis
* Change Supreme Electoral Council authorities
- Resignation or dismissal of the current magistrates.
- Designation of new magistrates through a public selection process based on the candidates’ professional and moral prestige and conditioned on their total independence of any political party.
* Basic reforms to the Electoral Law, without reforming the Political Constitution to establish an electoral system
Independent: a system that has full decision-making autonomy and does not depend on political party decisions.
- Naming of the Departmental, Regional and Municipal Electoral Councils proportional to the votes obtained in the last election of departmental National Assembly representatives.
- Naming of members of the Vote Reception Boards (JRVs) from a list of citizens selected randomly from the municipal Electoral Role.
Inclusive: a system that permits the participation of more political alternatives to opt for power, and of the citizenry in the choosing of rulers.
- Make the requisites more flexible for the creation of electoral alliances by political parties, nationally or by municipality, conserving their legal status and party identity.
- Regulate the application of the grassroots initiative for plebiscites and referenda via the petition of fifty thousand citizens.
- Direct selection of National Assembly representatives and Municipal Council members, using the system of closed lists and not slates for the election of legislators, in which each voter will have the liberty to change the order of the candidate list presented by the political party of his/her preference or leave it as presented.
- Restore the right of Nicaraguans to present candidacies by popular petition in municipal and regional elections.
- Equal opportunities for women and young people by establishing participation quotas in the candidate lists of 50% women and 20% youths between 21 and 30 years of age.
Transparent: a system that permits knowledge of the development and results of the electoral process.
- Establish the Supreme Electoral Council’s obligation to publicize the total preliminary results detailed by JRV and based on the count tallies within a 72-hour period after the voting; and details by JRV and municipality of the provisional and final results.
- Ordering of the challenges with respect to voting, counting and transmission of results, creating a title by chapter for each type of legal challenge.
- Establish the CSE’s obligation to accredit national and international electoral observers.