San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua municipal elections will increase Ortega’s power, analysts say

MANAGUA – Nicaraguans are expected to head to the polls – albeit unenthusiastically – Sunday to vote in municipal elections in which the ruling Sandinista party is expected to capture some 70 percent of mayoral posts over an opposition that is divided and without leadership, analysts said.

Mayors, vice mayors and 6,534 municipal council members will be elected in 153 municipalities by a list of some 4.4 million voters that has “not been purged” of the deceased and of immigrants without citizenship, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) acknowledged.

Faced with criticism over the voter rolls, CSE President Roberto Rivas said that a smaller number – some 3.7 million Nicaraguans – actually are expected to vote, adding that winning candidates are selected based on the percentage of real voters.

Led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, the Sandinistas could capture 72 percent of votes, according to the latest poll by the firm M&R.

“The good government will be validated,” Murillo, who is also the government’s spokeswoman, said.

The FSLN expects to win 120 mayoral posts – including Managua, where 1.4 million Nicaraguans live – 11 more than in previous municipal elections in 2008. Opposition groups denounced the last municipal elections as fraudulent, prompting the United States and European Union to suspend financial aid to the country.

The elections, held one year after Ortega was re-elected as president for a third term, represent a chance for the Sandinistas to further consolidate their near absolute control over the central government. The party already controls 62 of 92 seats in the National Assembly.

Overwhelmed by poverty, which affects 45 percent of the population, as well as unemployment and underemployment (54 percent), Nicaraguans seem apathetic over Sunday’s elections, the “best form of protest” against a process that already has been skewed in favor of the Sandinistas by the CSE, Roberto Courtney, president of the Ethics and Transparency Observation Group, told AFP.

Members of the opposition, who currently hold 44 mayoral posts, are split into four separate groups – three left-leaning and one conservative.

“These are not real elections,” a statement from the dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) said, referring to a process that will give the ruling Sandinistas “a greater concentration of power, [leading to] more corruption, inefficiency and impunity.”

The MRS criticized the CSE for allowing, based on a disputed ruling that also permitted Ortega to be re-elected to a third term, mayoral and vice mayoral candidates to be re-elected, as well as approving voter roles that include the deceased and immigrants without citizenship.

The FSLN will win because of the “opposition’s ineptitude,” lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro, who abandoned the opposition Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), said. “There is no leadership [in the opposition], and they’re falling all over themselves to see who will become the leader of a weak and fragile opposition.”

Navarro said that, for example, the PLC handed over control of Managua’s mayoral office to the Sandinistas by not confronting Mayor Daysi Torres, who is up for re-election.

The 13,340 polling sites open Sunday at 7 a.m. local time and close at 6 p.m.

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