The Nicaraguan legislature’s announcement that they would be taking up the issue of electoral reforms with an eye towards the 2021 elections did not inspire any hope in the Civic Alliance. Rather, the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy stated on Friday, January 10th, that any such reforms would certainly be purely “cosmetic”, since the legislature won’t be incorporating the dissidents in their discussions, despite the serious socio-political crisis.
Electoral reform represents one of the principal demands of the Nicaraguan opposition and the international community to move beyond the crisis that has left some 328 documented deaths since the large-scale uprising against President Daniel Ortega in April 2018.
Those demanding action hope that any reforms would guarantee “free, fair, transparent and well-observed” elections without Ortega’s intervention and without an option for his reelection, to avoid another extension of his mandate. This past January 10 marked thirteen consecutive years in power for him.
However, the opposition has no expectation that the legislative power, which on Thursday announced future electoral reforms, will comply with the demands of civil and international society, since an overwhelming majority of the deputies come from the ruling Sandinista party.
“We can’t hope for a good reform from a source that’s always lied. Simply put, they want to make some cosmetic reforms, so that internationally it looks like a real congressional reform. We don’t believe in that process,” Juan Sebastian Chamorro, executive director of the Civic Alliance, told reporters.
Chamorro explained that the key to electoral reforms is their legitimacy, and that can be granted only “by the Nicaraguan people”, whose majority seem to be opposed to the decisions made by the Sandinista government.
The Sandinista deputies have warned that they won’t be holding discussions of these reforms with the opposition, but only with the parties present in the National Assembly, together with the official party, the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front).
Opposition leader Chamorro recalled that “the process of genuine reform must involve negotiation with the Civic Alliance, which is what the international community, the OAS General Assembly, and the Nicaraguan people have proposed.”
The Nicaraguan government has refused on two occasions to resolve the crisis by the electoral pa, and Ortega has spoken of defending his interests, if necessary “with arms”.
Different social movements and human rights organizations have warned that the list of the dead could grow if they don’t move up the November 2021 elections, arguing that the government is carrying out selective executions of opposition activists.
“We’re talking about an oppressive regime that is a violator of human rights and is facing the repudiation of the international community,” Chamorro emphasized.
Nicaragua hasn’t experienced a crisis of this scope since the decade of the 80s, also under the presidency of Ortega.
Ortega marks 13 consecutive years as president
On Friday, January 10, Ortega marked 13 consecutive years as Nicaragua’s president. [He also held that post from 1985-1990.] He hasn’t, however, been able to overcome the internal sociopolitical crisis that has now continued for 20 months, including hundreds of dead from the 2018 anti-government protests, an economy on a continuous downturn and a polarized society. Ortega also commemorated three years of officially governing in conjunction with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who has been vice president since 2017.
In addition to the 328 documented deaths from the 2018 protests, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has held the Ortega government responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture and sexual abuse, among other “crimes against humanity”. The government alleges that it is defending itself against “a failed attempt at a Coup d’etat.
The accusations of the international organizations have caused international sanctions to be placed on Ortega’s family members and close allies, among them Vice President Rosario Murillo; the couple’s son, Laureano Ortega Murillo; his police chief Francisco Diaz; FSLN treasurer Francisco Lopez; and National Assembly president Gustavo Porras.
The Organization of American States has opened discussion of whether the Ortega administration should be officially suspended from the organization for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter and rupturing Nicaragua’s constitutional order. The FSLN has also been expelled from the Socialist International.
Economy on a downslide
In 2007, Nicaragua’s GNP grew by 3%; it then continued to top 4% growth each year. At that time, it was considered a secure country for tourism and investment. Those years now lie in the past.
The 2018 social explosion brought a 3.8% drop in the economy, and no recovery is expected until a political solution has first been found.
The opposition coincided with local economists in affirming that the only way out of the crisis would be to move up the 2021 elections, without having Ortega involved in the electoral process as a candidate for reelection.
According to both experts and dissidents, Ortega has maintained himself in power for these 13 years thanks to the FSLN’s dominance over all the state powers. This has already allowed him to aspire to reelection thanks to a reinterpretation of the Constitution, and to direct supposedly fraudulent electoral processes.
The anti-government clamors against the abuse of power has divided the population into those who aspire to a return to democracy, and the Sandinistas who oppose a change.
Hundreds of people have gone to jail after demonstrating their rejection of Ortega, or indicating this by waving the Nicaraguan flag, singing the National Anthem, wearing blue and white, or releasing balloons with these colors.
The government alleges that their strict measures are a guarantee of “security”. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled and gone into exile.
The crisis has brought the Ortega Government to go from what they term “victory to victory” to bringing thousands of police into the streets and warning “Don’t play with peace”.