Nicaragua Heads to the Polls

Update (November 9, 2011): As was widely predicted, the Frente Sandinista (FSLN) won the presidential elections in Nicaragua on Sunday. Nicaraguan papers are reporting interesting numbers: FSLN 62%; Arnoldo Alemán’s PLC 6%; the Liberal PLI party 31%; the other two right-wing Liberal parties less than 1% each. However, the Nicaraguan watchdog organization, Ethics and Transparency, says that many conditions were not met for the elections to be called fair by international standards. Their criticisms were based on the partisan nature of the Supreme Electoral Council, as well as irregularities in the voting. Violence was kept to a minimum, with few exceptions, throughout the country.

On Sunday November 6th, Nicaraguans will go to the polls to elect a new president, and new members to the National Assembly. There has been little coverage in our mainstream media, and even the alternative news sources contain surprisingly little reporting on the issues. Perhaps because polls indicate the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) is likely to win easily, the dramatic tension that usually underpins election coverage is absent.

The Sandinista government has made some improvements to the lives of ordinary people since they came to power in early 2007, but all in all, the government has a much less revolutionary tone than many would have liked. Leadership has made many compromises in position, including with the conservative Catholic church hierarchy, major economic powers in the country, and the US government. This has allowed it to move forward on many of its agenda items, but has drawn criticism from many formerly staunch supporters.

In a controversial ruling in October 2010, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court declared the Constitution unconstitutional, leaving Daniel Ortega free to run for a second consecutive term as President. The opposition is very fragmented, so one month before the polls, the elections are the Sandinista’s to lose.

Photo by Cindie Travis:

Many of the contenders in this election are the same faces that have dominated Nicaraguan politics for years. The two best known candidates are Daniel Ortega of the FSLN and former president Arnoldo Alemán of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), who signed a pact in 1999 to formally share power in the major state institutions. This pact has given the two parties a lock on power, making it possible for the leaders to stifle dissent and get away with many questionable activities. Critics say it is the shadow of this pact that allowed the constitution to be declared unconstitutional last year, since the Supreme Court is controlled by these two major parties.

Main Parties in the Election

Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN)

  • Presidential Candidate: Daniel Ortega
  • Vice Presidential Candidate: Omar Halleslevens

Daniel Ortega has been at the helm of the Sandinista party since the mid-1980’s, although not without controversy, both personal and political. Retired General Omar Halleslevens had a long-standing military carreer, as a former guerrilla leader, a founder of the present army, and until last year, army commander in chief. He is a well-respected and popular public figure, according to many public opinion polls.

Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC)

  • Presidential Candidate: Arnoldo Alemán
  • Vice Presidential Candidate: Francisco Aguirre Sacasa

Arnoldo Alemán was President from 1997 to 2002. In 2003 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption charges, but this was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2009, purportedly with the help of Sandinista judges. Francisco Aguirre Sacasa was Ambassador to the United States during the Arnold Alemán Presidency.

Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI)/Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (MRS) Alliance

  • Presidential Candidate: Fabio Gadea
  • Vice Presdiential Candidate: Edmundo Jarquin

This is a curious alliance, with a long-standing right-wing parliamentarian for Presidential candidate, but the Vice Presidential candidate being a leader of the breakaway left-wing Sandinista party, the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS). Both factions are claiming middle ground in order to retain their party status and some measure of power. The alliance has also received the endorsement of a group of 14 local non-profit organizations, the Citizens Union for Democracy. PLI-MRS is the only option among the leading contenders that favours a liberalization of Nicaragua’s draconian anti-abortion laws. Most polls place the alliance at a distant second behind the FSLN.

Alianza por la Republica (APRE)

  • Presidential Candidate: Roger Guevara Mena
  • Vice Presidential Candidate: Elizabeth Rojas

APRE was created in 2004 by then-President Enrique Bolaños, and right-wing dissidents from several political parties. Elected on the PLC ticket, Bolaños had a falling out with former President Arnoldo Alemán, and so formed a new party.

Alianza Liberal Nicaraguense (ALN)

  • Presidential Candidate: Enrique Quiñonez
  • Vice Presidential Candidate: Diana Urbina

This alliance has been formed by far right dissidents from the PLC and the Conservative party.

If you are interested in following Nicaraguan news in November:

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