Nicaragua’s Ortega seeking fourth consecutive term, opponents in jail ::



– In May, the chances were good that Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega will be re-elected for a fourth consecutive term on Sunday. His party turned the election calendar in his favor and the opposition was divided.

Then a CID Gallup poll shocked him: It showed five potential opposition candidates with higher favoritism values ​​than Ortega.

In the weeks that followed, all five and two other possible candidates were arrested.

“Faced with this fear, Ortega decided to stifle any possibility of loss,” said Oscar René Vargas, a political analyst. “And that meant arresting everyone.”

Fast forward to this Sunday. Potential opposition candidates are still imprisoned or under house arrest, their parties are banned, while Ortega competes against a handful of little-known small-party candidates on friendly terms with his own Sandinista front – factions known locally as “zancudos” or mosquitoes.

The vote was condemned as a farce by the United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States, as well as human rights and democracy organizations.

“There is no choice. The use of the word choice is even in question because the broad opposition is imprisoned or, in the case of Cristiana Chamorro, since the 2nd helped to confirm the fairness of Ortega’s election in 2006, however,” significant shortcomings ”when he won his re-election five years later.

Lincoln, who has worked as an election observer across the region, said with the lack of real opposition and urging voters to stay home on election day, “this is not something that meets international standards of an election, period.”

In Nicaragua scenes of exuberant campaigns are missing. The government has banned massive election rallies under pandemic restrictions. There is no political advertising on television. Even in the streets, evidence of the upcoming elections is limited to a few small banners over the streets and letter-sized candidate posters stuck to light poles.

Ortega, who turns 76 on November 11, and First Lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo made little appearances during the election campaign.

In addition to the presidential competition, the country elects a new Congress and MPs for the Central American Parliament.

On Wednesday, Michael Campbell, a Nicaraguan official, wholeheartedly defended the election in an online meeting of the Organization of American States. He accused the critics of the Nicaraguan election process of overthrowing the government “and feeding terrorism as a formula to destabilize national sovereignty”.

The country’s economy continues to struggle and Nicaragua was one of the last in the region to receive COVID-19 vaccines. For much of the pandemic, the government minimized the threat and continued to hold mass gatherings. There were disputes in hospitals because of the mask requirement. Local residents witnessed “express burials” of COVID-19 victims as the government tried to avoid panic.

Many Nicaraguans see little point in voting, but express fear of the consequences if they do not vote.

Ana Castillo, a former civil servant who now owns a small coffee farm south of Managua, said she did not want to vote, but members of the local Sandinista Front Council went door to door telling people they would wait for them at the polling station.

“They say they will retaliate on Monday against those who don’t have blotchy fingers,” she said, referring to the indelible ink that hands are marked to prevent double votes.

María Moreno, a psychologist in Santa Teresa, a town south of the capital, said she would not approach the local polling station. “There is no one to vote for,” she said. “It’s obvious that Ortega has already stolen the election. The result is ready, you are just waiting for the date to publish it. “

Despite the crackdown, Ortega retains a hard core of support. There are still those who see the benefits of government and remember its roots in the revolution that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Ortega speaks to him when he claims that the massive public protests in April 2018 were part of an attempted coup with foreign support. At least 328 people were killed when the protests were forcibly suppressed.

One of these donors is Rafael Espinoza, a 60-year-old mechanic from Managua’s San Judas neighborhood. “I will vote because the Sandinista Front is the party of the poor,” he said. “Now we, the poor, have health, education and parks. We didn’t have that before. “

The potential challengers arrested this year – along with two dozen other opposition and student leaders – are facing charges of money laundering or foreign funding, essentially treachery. That summer, observers waited for weeks to see which opposition leader would be picked up next.

They were often summoned to the public prosecutor’s office for questioning and then arrested and their homes searched. They were held for weeks without access to the outside world without access to lawyers or visits to relatives. The international condemnation had no effect.

What really happens on Sunday could be difficult to independently verify. Much of the foreign press was unable to obtain government permission to cover the elections.

The government has said that around 30,000 “electoral police” will protect the elections.

The Roman Catholic Church, which remains a powerful institution in Nicaragua, has also been attacked by Ortega, who has been accused of collaborating with those he believes were plotting the 2018 riots. Some priests even went so far as to urge people not to vote.

“On November 7th, my fingerprint will be clean, as will my conscience, because equal opportunities have been lost in the elections, competition has been eliminated and they have taken some of their own to face the opposition,” said Rev. Uriel Vallejo , Priests of the Church of the Mercy of Divine Mercy in the city of Sebaco in the north of the city – comments applauded by the opposition.

Earlier this year, while the electoral process was under way, the Supreme Electoral Council banned three opposition parties for alleged violations of the electoral law.

Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst at International Crisis Group, said the candidates running against Ortega are “very little known in the country and run for parties that are widely perceived as collaborators with the government.”

Rev Edwin Román, a priest of the Church of San Miguel in Masaya, a town near Managua where some of the most violent protests took place in 2018, said Ortega would face “a group of sad candidates who do not represent the opposition”.

The Open Ballot Box, made up of government critics, called this week for the polls to be declared illegal and for new elections to be held without political prisoners and with credible international observers.

European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrel also rejected the vote when he met with journalists on Tuesday in Lima, Peru.

“What I’m most concerned about in Nicaragua is that there are elections that are completely fraudulent,” he said. “We are not going to send an election observation mission because Mr Ortega has already made sure that the entire political opposition has been arrested.”


AP writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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