MANAGUA – President Daniel Ortega is attempting to block a legislative–effort to nullify the Nov. 9 municipal elections and redo them next year after the opposition has refused to accept the Supreme Electoral Council’s final vote count results.
“They’re trying to twist the law, twist the Constitution,” Ortega said after signing a presidential decree to block a bill to annul the elections.
The ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN) won 105 of 146 mayoral seats in elections that opponents say were rigged to favor Ortega’s party. The Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) took 37 mayor seats while the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) won 4, according to official results released Nov. 20 by the Supreme Elections Council (CSE).
Liberal Party leaders told reporters last week that as many as 50 mayoral seats were stolen by the Sandinistas by eliminating ballots for the opposition and annulling tens of thousands of votes.
Ortega, however, is defending the electoral process and warning the opposition it has “no other path” other than accepting the results. To underscore his position, Ortega on Nov. 21 signed a presidential decree – his 73rd so far this year – recognizing the CSE’s final results and blocking the opposition’s efforts to annul the electoral process–in the National Assembly.
“It’s difficult to accept an electoral defeat,” Ortega said, noting that he’s had to do so on three occasions in the past.
Ortega also criticized the National Police for using tear gas to control violent clashes between Liberal and Sandinista factions that flared up earlier this month in Managua and León in the wake of the election. He told police not to use tear gas against protesters.
CSE President Roberto Rivas told the government’s TV Channel 4 that he is worried about the proposal to annul the election results because the country is “tired” of violence occasioned by electoral uncertainty. During his speech Nov. 21, Ortega said, “We want peace” several times.
Before the results were released last week, the opposition had already presented a legal initiative to annul the poll results and call for another election to be held 45 days after the law is passed (NT, Nov. 21). An M&R Consultant poll released this week in the daily La Prensa suggests some 53 percent of Nicaraguans support the initiative.
“The government has an agenda to weaken representative democracy. The National Assembly is obligated to act, to stress the supremacy of the Constitution that says Nicaragua is a democratic republic,” said Liberal legislator Jose Pallais.
But Sandinistas insist their electoral victory was clean and “convincing.” “We already did a recount,” said Juigalpa Mayor–elect María Elena Guerra, standing behind the stage that was erected in front of the CSE on Nov. 20 as part of Sandinista celebrations that clogged several city blocks with a singing, drinking, flag–waving multitude of red and black.
Nearby, demonstrators burned a toy rat symbolizing the defeat of Liberal mayoral candidate for Managua Eduardo Montealegre, whose nickname is “Superatón” or Mighty Mouse.
Guerra, Juigalpa’s first female mayor–elect, said the country is polarized and must work to find common ground.
“We’re going to work with all sectors regardless of politics and religious creed,” she told The Nica Times.
The highest–ranking Sandinista in the National Assembly, lawmaker Edwin Castro, said a proposal to annul election results would “fracture the Constitution.”
“There’s no way,” he said in a phone interview.
Montealegre, church leaders, opposition political parties, the U.S. Embassy and the Organization of American States have all supported the idea of a nationwide recount with international observers.
Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent letters this week to John Danilovich, CEO of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), urging the U.S. government’s aid organization to suspend its $175 million program in northern Nicaragua in light of the allegations of electoral fraud and concerns over democratic order here.
Danilovich on Tuesday announced a freeze on funding new projects (see story on Page N1).
Nicaragua’s Episcopal Conference is calling on the government to exhaust “all legal and constitutional mechanisms” to find a solution to the country’s worsening political crisis to avoid more violence.
Liberal Party leaders, including party boss and convicted former President Arnoldo Alemán, who was elected in 1996 amid similar claims of electoral theft, said his party will do everything in its power to make sure the “barbarity of fraud” doesn’t stand.
“This great fraud that the FSLN has done has only come to strengthen this alliance that is now more than Liberals, but is now translated in a strategic and concrete alliance in the National Assembly,” said PLC Vice President and lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro.
Though the opposition says it has the majority of votes needed to pass their bill in the National Assembly, Ortega said the opposition is still six votes shy and predicts the project will flop.
Liberals, however, insist the bill will pass and that they will not negotiate a solution to the problem with the Sandinistas, which is how similar government crises have been resolved in the past.
At the Sandinista celebration victory last Friday, singing and dancing party loyalists filled the intersection where Montealegre’s march had been blocked three days before by crowds of Sandinista supporters with rocks and homemade mortar–launchers.
The Sandinistas set up a gigantic stage flanked by an over–sized poster of Ortega, brought in powerful sound system and shot off fireworks as supporters celebrated donning red–and–black and waving FSLN flags in the air vigorously.
Ortega lifted Mayor–elect of Managua Alexis Argüello’s fist in the air as state–run reporters celebrated the three–time world boxing champ’s “fourth championship.”
Argüello thanked his “campaign bosses” first lady Rosario Murillo and Managua City Councilman Edgardo Cuarezma – a Sandinista loyalist who will likely be a key figure in administering Argüello’s municipal government.
“We’re here to work hand in hand with you,” a euphoric Argüello yelled to an ecstatic crowd, “and with the government of commandante Daniel Ortega.”