MANAGUA – As Nicaragua’s divided opposition continues to call for unity and a return to honest and transparent governance, the Sandinistas’ aggressive project to ensure President Daniel Ortega’s reelection in 2011 continues to advance uninhibited.
On Oct. 28, the de facto president of Nicaragua’s sullied Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) convoked general elections for Nov. 6, 2011. In an announcement made only to Sandinista media and closed to independent news outlets, CSE head Roberto Rivas announced that political parties have one week – until Saturday, Nov. 6 – to present a letter of intention to participate in next year’s general elections for a new president, vice president and 90 lawmakers.
Participating parties will then have until March 18 to present their candidates, according to Rivas’ electoral calendar. Rivas, a close family friend of Ortega’s, has already said he will accept Ortega’s candidacy next year, despite the constitutional ban prohibiting consecutive presidential reelection.
Parties that boycott the electoral process – which many consider fraudulent from the start – risk losing their legal status, according to the Electoral Code.
Under a government that is operating in an increasingly de facto manner, the opposition parties seem resigned to playing by Ortega’s rules, rather than be eliminated from the game all together.
Political analyst Carlos Tünnerman of the civil society group Movement for Nicaragua warned that Rivas’ convocation of elections could be a “trap” laid by Ortega to eliminate other parties in a push towards a single-party state (NT, June 18, 2010).
Yet others speculate that Ortega is trying to push the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) deeper into a corner, forcing the beleaguered party to renegotiate the terms of its aging power-sharing pact with the Sandinistas, only this time as a weakened minority partner.
New ‘Pacto’ Coming?
In the past few weeks, rumors have emerged that PLC boss and former President Arnoldo Alemán has broken his promise to respect a series of opposition agreements known as Metrocentro I and II and entered into secret negotiations with Ortega.
Alemán and Ortega first hatched their power-sharing pact – the infamous “pacto” – in 1999, when Alemán was still president and Ortega was the minority partner.
For the past decade, “el pacto” has defined Nicaragua’s crisis-prone political situation, converting the judicial system, electoral council and every other government institution into political booty divvied up between the two caudillos (NT, June 5, 2005).
The pacto planted the seeds for Nicaragua’s current crisis of ungovernability, where the Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Commission have become de facto organizations under Ortega’s control and the National Assembly has been reduced to its current dysfunctionality (NT, Oct. 7).
And now the two men responsible for the situation could be planning an encore performance. At least that’s the concern of other politicians and civil society leaders, who last week preemptively denounced the birth of another pacto.
In a joint press conference Oct. 28, leaders of civil society and minority opposition parties called on the PLC to resist re-pacting with Ortega and to continue to honor its commitments under Metrocentro I and II.
The two agreements, signed earlier this year by opposition parties and civil society groups, “reject the 2008 electoral fraud,” reject the possibility of reelection for any of the 25 magistrates and judges whose terms have expired – including those in the CSE – and call for the creation of conditions to restore democratic institutionalism and rule of law. The signatories claim the possibility of a new pact between Alemán and Ortega would be a serious violation of the Metrocentro accords.
“The PLC has argued that the circumstances of the accords have changed. But what has changed?” demanded lawmaker Enrique Sáenz, a signatory for the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). “The same usurpers are in the Supreme Electoral Council – that hasn’t changed. Ortega still wants to perpetuate himself in power – that hasn’t changed. The Nicaraguan people still want to have free elections – that hasn’t changed. None of these conditions of changed; they are the same conditions that gave birth to the Metrocentro accords.”
The PLC, however, argues that the conditions have indeed changed. Twisting logic to their own convenience, the PLC released a party statement Oct. 28 claiming that Metrocentro I and II no longer apply because rival opposition leader and fellow signatory Eduardo Montealegre allegedly “intends to violate” the accords. Montealegre denies the charge.
Regardless, the PLC says it is now moving to the “next phase” of its master plan to defeat Ortega in 2011: “The creation of a great national alliance under the leadership of the PLC in its condition as the principal party of opposition.”
The PLC’s call for a “great national alliance” is nothing new. Alemán has been calling for such an alliance for years – and all the while has been slipping in the opinion polls.
The Changing of the Guard
While the PLC admits that it is backing out of the Metrocentro I and II accords, Alemán’s party insists it still defends the fundamental position of the agreements: to change the CSE magistrates in order to “guarantee transparent elections” and assure “democratic continuity,” according to the party’s release.
The PLC also said it pledges to uphold the Constitution in electing new magistrates to the CSE. Analysts say that if the PLC is held to that promise, it would prohibit them from electing new magistrates in a pacto agreement with the Sandinistas.
According to the Constitution, the 25 magistrates whose terms have expired must be replaced individually by qualified, non-partisan candidates.
Under the original pacto, the caudillos negotiated the government posts all at once (“X” amount for Ortega, and “Y” for Alemán), and the candidates were picked based on partisan loyalties over professional qualifications.
While many in Nicaragua are bracing for the possibility of an Alemán-Ortega re-pacto, which would further undermine the credibility of next year’s elections, some maintain hope that the situation could still improve – or at least not worsen.
“The struggle is to remove the fraudulent magistrates from the CSE before they organize next year’s elections,” Tünnerman said.
Roberto Courtney of electoral observation group Ethics and Transparency agrees not all is lost. “There is still plenty of opportunity to improve the electoral process,” Courtney said.