Monday, November 29

After jailing rivals, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua prepares to win re-election

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sought a fourth consecutive term in elections that the United States has called a “pantomime” after the imprisonment of its main rivals and the country’s opposition has urged voters to boycott.

Ortega has criticized Washington’s alleged interference in Sunday’s elections to determine who will occupy the presidency for the next five years, as well as 90 of the 92 seats in Congress and Nicaragua’s representation in the Central American Parliament.

The ruling Sandinista Front and its allies control Congress and all government institutions. Ortega first served as president from 1985 to 1990, before returning to power in 2007. He recently declared his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, his “co-president.”

Voting was orderly and closed Sunday night with no reported incidents. Provisional vote totals were expected Monday.

The opposition had asked Nicaraguans to stay home in protest of an electoral process that has been roundly criticized for not being credible by foreign powers. In June, police arrested seven potential Ortega presidential challengers on charges that essentially amounted to treason. They were detained on election day.

Two dozen other opposition leaders were also detained before the elections.

The remaining contenders in Sunday’s vote were little-known politicians from smaller parties seen as friends of Ortega’s Sandinista Front.

On Saturday, the Blue and White National Union, an opposition alliance, issued an alert after at least eight of its leaders were “kidnapped by the regime in illegal raids” on Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Civic Alliance, another opposition coalition, denounced “harassment, surveillance, intimidation, assault, attacks, illegal and arbitrary detentions” of some of its leaders in Nicaragua.

On Sunday, Mayela Rodríguez found her local voting center at a school in Managua practically empty. “In the last few years it was really crowded,” he said. “Before you had to (wait) in a long line to come here and now, empty.”

Around noon, Ortega spoke live on television after the vote: he raised his inked finger.

He criticized the United States for interference in Nicaragua, pointed out that there had been an alleged fraud in the last American elections and recalled that those who broke into the United States Capitol were called terrorists and remain imprisoned. He reiterated his claim that the United States government supported the large protests in Nicaragua in April 2018, which it has described as an attempted coup.

“They have as much right as we to open trials against terrorists,” Ortega said.

In a statement issued near the close of the vote, US President Joe Biden called Nicaragua’s electoral process “rigged” and said the United States would use the tools at its disposal to hold the Nicaraguan government accountable.

“The Ortega and Murillo family now rule Nicaragua as autocrats, it is no different from the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago,” Biden said.

He criticized the vote as a “mock election that was neither free nor fair, and certainly undemocratic.”

In neighboring Costa Rica, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada tweeted that his government will not recognize the elections due to “the lack of democratic conditions and guarantees.”

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said that the peaceful vote sends a message to world powers that “Nicaraguans are worthy patriots and we are not going to give in to their threats, sanctions and the non-recognition of the elections.”

With little doubt about the outcome of the presidential elections, attention is already turning to what the international response will be as Ortega seeks to strengthen his grip on power.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against those in Ortega’s inner circle, but Ortega responded only by arresting more of his opponents.

On Friday, a senior US State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the US government was willing to consider additional specific sanctions, but had tried to avoid action. that would affect the Nicaraguan people more broadly.

“It is very difficult when you have a government that has minimum goals that include staying in power at any cost and ignoring the will of its own citizens or the needs of citizens to retain that power,” said the official.

The Organization of American States will hold its annual general assembly in Guatemala later this week. Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico were among the seven countries that abstained from voting on a resolution last month at the OAS condemning the repression in Nicaragua.

The international observers present in the last Nicaraguan elections were not present. Instead, the government accredited 232 “electoral partners,” mostly from governments and left-wing parties.

Among them was Dmitry Novikov, representative of the Russian Duma. He visited several polling places and said he observed “respect for the principle of non-interference” and criticized European leaders who questioned the election.

Gerardo Berthin, director of programs for Latin America and the Caribbean at the democracy-promoting organization Freedom House, said Sunday that the vote was going as Ortega had planned.

“This is what they want in terms of showing people voting, even though we know they actually have lists of people who work for the government and are checking who is going and who is not,” Berthin said.

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