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Roberto Courtney: Without Fundamental Reforms, it’s Not Worth Going to Elections

They sustain that the electoral system has no credibility, there would be large-scale abstention and abstention benefits Ortega

Without the approval and compliance of substantial electoral reforms, that would lessen the control the governing Sandinista Front (FSLN) exercises over the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), it’s worthless to participate in an electoral process, warns Robert Courtney, executive director of the national organization for electoral observation Ethics and Transparency. 

“If we go to elections with the system as it is, we’d not only have an electoral court projecting an image of fraud, but also carrying a history of frauds (since the 2008 municipal elections) and records of their behavior would aim at there being no possibility of fair elections”, said Courtney during an interview with Carlos Fernando Chamorro in the program Esta Noche.

“If there are no substantial reforms there is no reason for an electoral process”, he stated.

Courtney said no sector of the opposition “no matter how inclined it may be to fall in the trap, would participate in the elections for a simple reason: the issue of abstention in Nicaragua is key and one of the ways Ortega could win is by promoting abstention”.

The executive director of Ethics and Transparency expressed that abstention has always benefited Ortega, who counts on “three of every ten Nicaraguans, but achieves that half of the other Nicaraguans don’t go to the voting polls, so he ends up with three of every five.”

“If there are no conditions there is no way to convince the Nicaraguan constituency to come to the voting stations because, in the process, many Nicaraguans would recognize there is no trust in the arbitration and that it’s probably dangerous to show up to the voting station” during the vote count, stressed Courtney, who has managed observation in many elections.

According to Courtney, if Ortega decides to launch an electoral process without applying electoral reforms beforehand, his image could deteriorate even more before the international community

“If there are no reforms and they go for an electoral process, it would be considered illegal from the start,” he said, “And the issue of illegitimacy is not secondary, we must remember that when a government is illegitimate, it is possible to recognize an alternate government in exile, be able to freeze their accounts and give the signatures to the opposition.”

Faced with such a scenario, he believes that not even a constitutional assembly would save Ortega.

Opposition “are all in agreement”

Courtney, who participates in the Group Promoting Electoral Reforms, pointed out that the opposition has already agreed on the fundamental changes the electoral system needs which includes mending arbitration.

The FSLN has absolute control over all levels of the Electoral Council, from the magistrates down to the electoral police and members of the voting stations. It also punishes by taking away legal status from political parties or taking a political party away from some to give to others, like when Eduardo Montealegre was stripped of the Independent Liberal Party.

“The whole electoral apparatus is occupied by FSLN operators”, underlined Courtney.

The elections expert said the ideal plan for choosing an electoral magistrate is to open up a screening process, a competition and seek the most suitable one. “The suitability of the judge has to do with having no influence from political parties, with keeping distance from the competitors”.

All sectors coincide

All the opposition sectors coincide in that electoral reforms are necessary to be able to get out of the political crisis the country is experiencing.

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Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship has an agreement with the Organization of American States to promote reforms in the electoral system, however it refuses to discuss them with the opposition.

The Group Promoting Electoral Reforms proposed changes focused on re-establishing trust in the CSE because it is partisan at all levels, establishing transparency and guarantees for the vote count and the voter registration list, allowing Nicaraguans outside of the country to vote, as well as banning reelection and gifted legislative seats in congress, and clearly establishing plebiscites and referendums.

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