Second in a two-part series on the FSLN’s minority “majority
MANAGUA – Since 1990, the mantra of Nicaragua’s majority anti-Sandinista population has been: united, we will defeat Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
That was the case in the presidential elections of 1990, 1996 and 2001 – all three of which Ortega lost against a unified opposition. The electoral adage was again proven true in 2006, but with a different result. Ortega won the elections with only 38 percent of the vote thanks to a divided opposition.
Nicaragua’s self-appointed “democratic opposition” has since made it their mission – or perhaps, their “mission impossible” – to run a single candidate against the FSLN in 2011.
But conventional wisdom may be outdated.
“A two-candidate election is no longer a guarantee of a triumph over Ortega, as it has been in the past,” said pollster Raúl Obregón of M&R Consultants firm. “In the past it has become almost a dogma that if we go to elections with two candidates, the Sandinistas will lose. But under the current circumstances, we have no saints who will move the precession of independent voters.” If the independents, who together represent more than half of all Nicaraguan voters, decide to stay at home on election day, Ortega – with his 30-35 percent minority – could win the presidential election by a landslide, Obregón said.
Though the constitution prohibits the president from seeking reelection next year, the Sandinistas have made it clear that Ortega will be their candidate again and have already tried to legitimize that decision through a questionable legal interpretation by Sandinista Supreme Court magistrates green-lighting his candidacy.
If the presidential election is between Alemán (who has already declared his candidacy) and Ortega – a hypothetical yet plausible matchup between Nicaragua’s two least popular public figures – most people wouldn’t even bother getting out of bed on election day, according to Obregón’s polling numbers.
Though Alemán defeated Ortega when the two caudillos went head-to-head the first time in 1996, the prospect of choosing between an ex-convict accused of bilking Nicaragua out of $100 million during his first term (Alemán), or a man accused of crimes against humanity and trying to install a dictatorship, would appear to be a lose-lose situation to most voters.
“The way things are today, the motivation of the lesser of two evils does not work to get people out of their houses to vote,” Obregón said. “Now voters could say, ‘I am going to stay at home on election day.’ And the voter who stays at home is contributing to the triumph of the FSLN.”
In fact, Ortega could be helped more by voter abstention than any electoral promise he makes.
“Even if Ortega can’t get the same number of votes as he did in 2006, even if he is incapable of winning a single independent vote, if the (current polling) numbers hold, the Sandinista Front wins with 53 or 54 percent of the vote (against Alemán), because we could have an abstention rate around 50 percent,” Obregón said.
The problem with the so-called “opposition unity,” Obregón said, is that it’s not really unity at all, rather the result of a series of talks and conditions between Alemán and dissident opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre. That process – far from any organic unification of Nicaragua’s diverse and scattered opposition – excludes the great majority of Nicaraguans, and has further soured many people on the country’s political situation.
“The tendency of the independents is to remain outside of politics; there is a group of only 12-15 percent of independents who are even paying attention to politics, and the rest don’t want to know anything about politics, politicians or elections at this moment,” the pollster said.
Another factor that could contribute to high voter abstention is the lack of trust people have in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which is accused of rigging the Sandinistas’ electoral victory in the 2008 municipal elections.
“Right now, with the current electoral authorities, people feel that regardless of whether Ortega gets more votes or not, he’ll win the elections,” Obregón told The Nica Times.
For independents to get motivated and interested in participating again, there needs to be a genuine unification process that puts aside the personal political agendas of the opposition caudillos and focuses on a proposal for the nation and a plan for government based on principles, not politics as usual, Obregón said.
In other words, the concept of opposition unity should not be something that plays only to the political bases of Alemán or Montealegre, rather a broader proposal that targets the majority of Nicaraguans who don’t want anything to do with the country’s traditional political parties.
If the opposition cannot win the independent voters, they won’t beat Ortega and his very disciplined base of Sandinista supporters, Obregón said.
“The FSLN and President Ortega are a minority – it’s true. They are a minority if we look at the numbers in the context of the entire voting population. But they are a majority if we take out the voters who are not going to participate in the elections,” the pollster warned.
“And that’s the great risk that Nicaragua faces in the 2011 elections,” he stressed.