San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Elections approach in Guatemala, Nicaragua

The dates for two key elections in Central America are quickly approaching. In Guatemala’s race for the presidency, former head of military intelligence Otto Pérez Molina, 60, leads national polls leading up to the Sept. 11 elections, and his main rival has just been handed a setback. Guatemala’s Supreme Elections Tribunal disqualified former First Lady Sandra Torres’ bid for the presidency Wednesday, a lawmaker and supporter said. Torres’ party appealed the ruling Thursday.

Legislator Christian Boussinot said the court notified the parties in the case, which stemmed from a challenge saying Torres’ divorce earlier this year from Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom (TT, March 22) was an effort to circumvent legal obstacles to her candidacy. The Guatemalan Constitution prohibits the spouse and other relatives of the outgoing president to run for the presidency.

Boussinot acknowledged that Colom’s ruling National Unity of Hope party lacked a viable alternative candidate to stand in the Sept. 11 elections.

“We do not have a Plan B,” he said, noting the party’s executive committee planned to appeal the ruling.

According to monthly polls published by Guatemalan daily La Prensa Libre, on June 1, Pérez had the support of 36.9 percent of those polled, while Torres’ support had risen to 17.6 percent of those polled, a 6.6 percent increase from May. Pérez was defeated by current President Álvaro Colom in the 2007 elections.

More than 7 million Guatemalans are eligible to vote in the Sept. 11 elections. A new president, vice president, 158 deputies, 333 mayors and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament will be elected.

Concerns exist about escalating election-related violence. According to the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman, 30 murders committed since November are considered to be politically motivated. In 2007, at least 68 people died in Guatemala during election campaigns. 

Ortega Leads Polls in Nicaragua

Nicaragua will elect its president on Nov. 6, though it appears incumbent Daniel Ortega won’t be packing up his office any time soon.

Despite the prohibition of consecutive presidential terms as determined by the national constitution, Ortega, who turns 66 five days after the election, served as the Nicaraguan president from 1985 to 1990 and was reelected in 2006. The Nicaraguan Constitution also prohibits presidents from serving three terms.

Though Ortega’s candidacy is widely considered to be controversial, according to a poll conducted by research firm CID Gallup in May, Ortega held more than 38 percent of the popular vote, which is more than 10 percent higher than his closest competitor, Fabio Gadea, who turns 80 three days after the election and who belongs to the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance.

Ex-President Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002), 65, of the Liberal Constitutional Party, was in third place with 14 percent of the vote.

Part of Ortega’s popularity stems from the overwhelming ubiquity of his face and his populist approach to corralling national support.

Throughout the capital city of Managua, hot pink billboards bearing Ortega’s mustached mug read “Thirty-two years of changing Nicaragua,” alluding to the Sandinista overthrow of former President Anastasio Somoza in 1979, and streets are spray-painted red and black with the letters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front party. Ortega’s face is posted on walls in the Augusto Sandino International Airport in Managua, along major national roadways and in many poor neighborhoods.

But many Nicaraguans don’t support Ortega and say his re-election bid is unconstitutional. In April, 2,000 people marched in Managua to protest against Ortega. Opponents on Facebook held a “virtual protest,” and a website titled “One million people against the anti-democracy of Daniel Ortega” has 6,600 members.

On Monday, members of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Movement (MPJCH) announced a second anti-Ortega protest on July 9.

“The citizens who are frustrated with the increase in electricity costs, the high costs of the basic package [of goods], the lack of electoral observation, the violation of the political constitution and the illegal candidacy of Ortega should protest on July 9,” said Marvin Parrales, an MPJCH representative.

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