Nicaraguan authoritarian rulers Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are set to extend their rule over the crumbling Central American country with an election that opponents and much of the international community have denounced as a farce.
Ortega, the Sandinista rebel who ruled Nicaragua in the 1980s and has governed continuously since 2007, will run for an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s contest, which follows a ruthless six-month political crackdown on his rivals.
Seven presidential candidates have been thrown into jail or under house arrest since May, while other leading critics have fled to Costa Rica, the United States and Europe, and foreign journalists have been banned from the country.
In recent weeks, journalists from CNN, Le Monde, New York Times, NPR, Washington Post and Honduran newspaper El Heraldo have all been barred from entering Nicaragua to attend the debates.
Tiziano Breda, a Central American specialist at Crisis Group, said Ortega’s assault on the besieged opposition in Nicaragua meant there was no doubt about the outcome of the election, which should be announced to the early hours of Monday.
« [Ortega losing] It would be a real sleight of hand – but I don’t see it happening, ”said Breda, predicting that the former left-wing guerrilla, which helped save Nicaragua from dictatorship in the 1970s, would get between 60% and 70% of the votes.
Breda believed the crackdown was largely driven by Ortega’s fear of losing power and being prosecuted for a deadly 2018 crackdown on student protests in which hundreds were killed.
“He has shown that political survival trumps any possible internal or external pressure. It was a matter of life and death for him to secure his re-election on Sunday, ”Breda said.
Jesús Tefel, an exiled political activist who fled to Costa Rica in July after a succession of allies was imprisoned, called the election a “farce” and urged the international community to do more to help to restore Nicaragua’s battered democracy.
“What we have now in Nicaragua is a dictator and a dictatorial system, which tramples on every one of our rights. It’s like the perfect dictatorship, ”he said of Ortega and Murillo, his powerful vice president and wife.
“This is a terrible precedent for global democracy. The message he sends is that you can be a dictator and that there are no consequences. It will encourage other dictators – it will encourage the enemies of democracy, ”said Tefel, leader of the opposition group Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanca (Unab).
Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s ex-daughter-in-law, condemned the election as “an absurdity, a sting and a form of virtual reality”.
“A war on the truth is underway,” said Ortega Murillo, who severed ties with Nicaraguan leaders in 1998 after accusing Ortega of sexual abuse, in an interview in Costa Rica where she also lives in exile. .
Speaking to Spanish magazine Alfa y Omega, the former vice-president of Ortega, the writer in exile and former Sandinista Sergio Ramírez, said: “Daniel Ortega will decide how many votes he gets.
Ortega and Murillo have defended the wave of detentions, saying the targets were criminals guilty of crimes “against the homeland” and seeking to overthrow their Sandinista administration with a foreign-backed coup. “There will be no setback,” said Ortega, 75, in June in a rare public appearance.
Despite this uncompromising rhetoric, Breda suspected that Nicaraguan leaders would change course after the election. So far, Ortega has focused on securing victory by intimidating the opposition into submitting. After securing a fourth term, Breda predicted that he would try to calm the situation and appease the international community by offering a “dialogue” with members of the opposition and the business community.
“I expect a change in tactics as they will serve a different purpose after November 7,” Breda said. “I think he is aware that he will have to seek a governability agreement with certain sectors which are crucial for the functioning of the state and for the overall economic stability of the country. “
Thousands of Nicaraguans in exile were scheduled to march through the streets of Costa Rica’s capital San José on Sunday to protest what many see as Nicaragua’s transformation into a police state.
Ana Quirós, a feminist activist and former Sandinista who was among the organizers, said she was convinced that Nicaragua would see political change as soon as possible.
“I have patience, I have hope and I have confidence,” said Quirós, who was stripped of his Nicaraguan nationality and expelled for supporting the failed 2018 rebellion.
Quirós admitted unity was a challenge given the ideological and personal differences between Ortega’s enemies. “I have sat down with people that I have spent so many years fighting with, people on the right, people who are against abortion,” she said. “But before we can discuss our differences, we have to resolve this situation and that means first securing the release of political prisoners. “
Ortega and Murillo ignored criticism of the election. Asked to comment on the allegations of irregularities, the vice-president of Nicaragua reportedly sent a one-word email to the Washington Post: “Gracias!