San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Civil society demands electoral observation

Nicaragua’s consistently divided and ineffectual opposition is once-again being put to test by two legislative proposals submitted by civil society organizations last week demanding credible international observation and transparency in this year’s general elections – something the de facto Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is trying to avoid.

On Jan. 26, a civil society coalition led by Movement for Nicaragua presented opposition lawmakers with a proposed bill to “guarantee national and international observation to all electoral, plebiscite and referendum processes in Nicaragua.”

Two days later, a separate civil society organization known as the Electoral Reform Promotion Group presented a similar legislative proposal calling for electoral transparency.

“The goal of this bill is to promote transparency in the elections,” said opposition lawmaker José Pallais, of the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). “Observation is not a guarantee against fraud; it is just one of the elements needed.”

Catholic Church leaders, heads of the private sector, diplomatic missions and opposition political parties have all made similar calls for election observers and transparency, as required by Nicaragua’s Electoral Code. But the Sandinista Front – which hopes to illegally reelect Daniel Ortega to another term as president – and the de facto CSE are attempting to block efforts to assure electoral transparency, arguing that observers only try to meddle in domestic democratic affairs.

Roberto Rivas, the scandalous de facto president of the CSE and a close ally of Ortega, has argued that election observers are needed only in non-democratic countries. As a result, the CSE will allow only “electoral accompaniment” and not observation, he said.

Rivas has said that any foreigner who dares to criticize the electoral process will “be put on the first plane home.”

Civil society leaders, however, claim that the last three municipal and regional elections managed by Rivas’ CSE were plagued by widespread allegations of fraud.

The 2008 municipal elections, in which the CSE and the Orteguistas are accused of rigging the results in more than 25 percent of the polls, were so discredited that the United States and European donors suspended millions in budget aid and developmental assistance for Nicaragua.

 Carlos Tünnermann, of Movement for Nicaragua, says the proposed legislative reform calls for the participation of electoral observers, who actually monitor the process and “criticize that which does not work well,” rather than a process of “accompanying” the Sandinista officials in shame election. Tünnermann noted that Nicaragua has had international electoral observation since 1990, and national observation since 1996.

As the specter of elector fraud looms large over the 2011 contest, civil society leaders insist the participation of credible electoral observers is more important than ever.

 The Orteguistas, however, say they’ve got it all under control.

“I don’t think a law is necessary,” said head Orteguista lawmaker Edwin Castro.  “The CSE has said it will allow electoral accompaniment, because electoral observation has become disruptive, trying to convert itself into a parallel electoral authority, which I am totally against.”

Critics, however, argue that the CSE has become a parallel electoral authority under the dubious leadership of Rivas, whose continues to usurp the office of electoral president seven months after his constitutional term limit expired.

The opposition parties in National Assembly, which despite representing a majority continue to behave like a hen-pecked minority, have once again vowed to unite to pass the laws for the sake of democracy. History, however, is against them.

And even if they get the law passed, it could still be vetoed by Ortega in his march towards illegal reelection.

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