I have been struggling to write this blogpost for weeks. Although this year’s presidential elections aren’t for another eight months, there is plenty happening now that will affect the outcome in November. It seems like such a complicated mess that I haven’t known where to begin. I want to represent the situation fairly, and yet I certainly have my biases. But the Egyptian people’s success at making their voice heard and enacting change in their country has inspired me to finally put pen to paper, or rather, hand to keyboard. The question around here has been “If Egypt can do it, can we?” I have a co-worker who thinks that if Egypt did it in 18 days, Nicaragua can do it in 15. Not everyone wants to get rid of current president Daniel Ortega, but there is a lot of controversy surrounding his bid for re-election.
According to the Nicaraguan constitution, a current president cannot run for re-election during his term. He must wait at least one election cycle before entering the race again. Additionally, the constitution states that no person can be president more than twice, and Daniel Ortega has reached his limit, having served one term in the 1980’s and another one now (if you speak Spanish, Google “constitución de Nicaragua” and scroll down to Artículo 147). After failing to get the votes he needed in Congress to change the constitution, Ortega still managed to “allow” his own re-election thanks to his friends on the Supreme Court, a completely unconstitutional procedure. Many may ask, how is this even possible? Simple. Remember Arnoldo Aleman, president of Nicaragua prior to Ortega? The one who stole a ton of money from the country? He’s not in jail, or even under house arrest anymore. Why, you ask? Because he formed an alliance (“El Pacto”) with Ortega years ago, which has turned into a series of traded favors and divvying up of political posts and institutions. The latest in the chain of corruption is Ortega’s reprinting of the constitution and Aleman’s running for the presidency yet again, because his bid guarantees a split opposition vote which in turn guarantees Ortega’s win. Though not by a majority vote, which, again, is technically unconstitutional. So, in conclusion, Ortega and Aleman continue to be the big political players, the general public is well versed in their chronicle of corruption, and any other candidates have little chance at upsetting the system.
This is a basic outline of the election set-up, although it says nothing about the candidates themselves and their political platforms. By March 18, 2011, parties must declare their candidates, and this process has also engendered all kinds of corruption (i.e. abrupt and illegitimate changes to electoral law and cancellation of some political parties’ legal status). But, the campaigning goes on, and while Nicaraguans are divided on whether Daniel Ortega’s re-election would be a good move for the country, most Nicaraguans agree that Ortega will be the winner of the next election, whether legitimately or not. At the same time, a lot can happen between now and November. How will the Nicaraguan people make their voice heard during the campaign? Will the international community recognize the outcome? If Nicaraguans protest the process, what can the goal be? How likely is an unexpected outcome? As U.S. citizens with a government claiming to promote democracy around the world, it is our responsibility to use our power and privilege to promote real democracy, not simply a cover. One way we can do this is to stay informed about Nicaragua’s elections and lobby our government to not look the other way when political injustices are committed. The U.S. has already unofficially cast their vote for Ortega, quietly applauding his ability to keep within their neoliberal economic system. Over the next several months I hope to continue writing about the elections, both from my own perspective, and from the perspective of a diverse group of every-day Nicaraguans. I will post a series of interviews so you can hear, in their own words, local perspectives on these issues.
For a more detailed account of the election process in the last few months, including a more substantial description of candidates and information on the U.S. stance, read this article from November’s issue of Envio.
For more history on The Pact, read this article from January 2000’s issue of Envio.