Violence rocks Nicaragua after hotly contested election

November 7, 2008

Following a day of political violence that swept across the capital and other parts of the country after both of the main candidates for mayor of Managua declared victory in Sunday´s hotly contested municipal elections, Nicaragua´s private sector leaders are calling for a nationwide recount with the help of international observers.

César Zamora, president of the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), told The Nica Times yesterday afternoon that his business chamber is finalizing a formal request to call for an internationally audited recount, following the government´s refusal to accredit international or national observers to monitor Sunday´s elections.

“This is a key moment for Nicaragua´s democracy and the health of the country´s economy,” Zamora said in a phone interview, while lamenting the widespread street violence that left two dead and an unknown number of injured.

The country´s leading business chamber, COSEP, was meeting behind closed doors last night to deliver its own statement regarding the deteriorating situation in Nicaragua.

With 69 percent of the vote counted as of yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) reported that the Sandinista National Liberation Front was winning or had won 94 seats, while the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) was ahead in 46 municipalities and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance claimed 2 mayoral seats. In Managua, the CSE reported that Sandinista candidate and former boxer Alexis Argüello was leading PLC challenger Eduardo Montealegre by 5 percentage points, 51 to 46 percent, with 69 percent of the vote tallied.

Those results, however, are being challenged. Electoral watchdog group Ethics and Transparency called Sunday´s vote the “least transparent” elections held here in more than a decade, and the U.S. State Department yesterday noted reports of “widespread irregularities taking place at voting stations throughout the country.” 

An hour before the CSE´s third vote tally yesterday at noon, Montealegre declared himself victor in Managua, claiming that the PLC´s parallel vote count based on the final vote tallies taken from each polling stations showed that he won the mayor´s seat with more than 50 percent of the vote. He called on his supporters to take to the street to defend his victory – a call to action that then led to violence and PLC activists clashed with Sandinistas across the city.

Other reports of violence were reported in León and Masaya, where PLC supporters threatened to burn the house of the Sandinista candidate for vice mayor, requiring her to seek police protection, according to family members.

Montealegre tried to call for calm but the situation grew out of control, with clashes erupting in different neighborhoods in Managua. Even legendary guerrilla leader Edén “Comandante Cero” Pastora said he had to defend his home, firing “six or seven rounds” from his old M-16 over the heads of a group of Liberals who were throwing rocks.

Pastora told The Nica Times in a phone interview that the group was a bunch of “cowards” and said he didn´t think the situation would spiral into more violence. However, he added, “If they return, I will shoot to kill.”

Read this Friday´s Nica Times for full electoral coverage

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