In an unprecedented mass inauguration ceremony that had the signature touch of a Sandinista government rally, President Daniel Ortega and Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) head Roberto Rivas on Jan. 14 simultaneously swore-in all 146 mayors, vice-mayors and city council members from the controversial Nov. 9 municipal elections.
The opposition still refuses to recognize the election results and 100,000 citizens have protested the alleged fraud through a signature drive.
Still, the opposition Liberal alliance, which claims that the CSE and Sandinista Front stole 44 of their 105 municipal victories, attended the swearing-in ceremony despite announcing two days earlier that they would boycott the government event.
It’s not clear whether the Liberals’ participation in the ceremony was part of last week’s suspected political negotiation between PLC boss Arnoldo Alemán and Ortega. The political pact, which was revealed four days later, absolved Alemán of all corruption-related crimes in exchange for his apparent recognition of the municipal election results and his party’s support in giving the Sandinistas control over the National Assembly (see separate story, above).
But not all Liberals were in agreement.
Some chose to demonstrate against the inauguration ceremony by heckling Ortega during his speech. One Liberal councilman held up a sign that read “Alexis Argüello, champion of fraud,” in reference to the former boxing champ who was named mayor of Managua for the Sandinistas.
In the crowd, Sandinista supporters attempted to quell the Liberals’ attempts to protest. Managua councilman Virgilio Gurdián, of the Liberal Constitutional Party, had to be rescued by police and escorted out of the event to safety when Sandinistas attacked him for giving comments to the media afterwards.
Roberto Rivas, for his part, defended the electoral process and – in language that echoed President Ortega – blamed the press for conspiring against the elections by claiming there had been fraud.
Standing on stage next to Ortega, surrounded by flowers and Sandinista flags, Rivas blamed the media, opposition political leaders, electoral watchdog groups, and other “various sectors with very particular interests” for discrediting the electoral process and denouncing fraud “even before the process had even started.”
Yet by the time the elections were over, the negative perception that Rivas complained of was widespread and documented. The international community quickly moved to suspend aid to Nicaragua in protest over the alleged fraud, and the Catholic Church, civil society and business leaders asked for a recount.
Instead, the dubious electoral results were ratified by last week’s swearing-in ceremony.
Opponents worry that this might have been the final nail in the coffin for foreign aid.
“I expect that the traditional donors will continue to reassess their lending programs to Nicaragua in the context of what is happening on the governance front,” said Liberal lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, head of the National Assembly’s budget commission.
“And to the extent that the backsliding on transparency, respect for the rule of law and for democracy continues, I believe they will pare back their assistance to Nicaragua.”
During the day of the mayoral inauguration ceremony, Enrique Quiñonez, a Liberal lawmaker and former vice-mayoral candidate for Managua, told The Nica Times that the swearing-in was not irreversible, because opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly were planning to pass a law to annul the elections once the legislature reconvened.
Yet now that the Sandinistas have taken control of the National Assembly directorate, it appears increasingly unlikely that the bill will be given a chance.
Still, opposition leaders are urging Nicaraguans to not give up hope.
“If Nicaraguan society in its majority doesn’t accept this fraud, and the national and international media also refuses to accept the fraud, the situation is not irreversible,” urged Edmundo Jarquín, head of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, in his weekly radio address Jan. 18.
“At some point a true solution will be reached, either by revising all the votes or holding the elections again,” he added. “On the contrary, this country won’t advance, or even worse, the social, economic and political situation will only deteriorate further.”