Nicaragua tensions mount after alleged vote-rigging

With Panamanian elections set for Sunday and President Juan Carlos Varela stepping down, the aftermath of the Oct. 20 general election in Nicaragua has turned into a political free-for-all. In Nicaragua, the electoral authority has yet to release final results of the vote, and complaints from the opposition, rights groups and the United States accuse the Ortega regime of rigging the election. The pretext for the heist, critics say, is the government’s iron-fisted control of the electoral process and the Ortega campaign. The result was expected to strengthen the right-wing alliance, in part by favoring Ortega, who is running on a platform based on his programs and economic policies.

In the lead-up to the Oct. 20 election, activists and opposition parties accused Ortega of promising expanded housing and benefits to the middle-class as part of an alleged quid pro quo for staying in power. Some groups have accused Ortega and his wife, First Lady Rosario Murillo, of subverting democracy, such as by passing a law that enables judges to disregard the results of referendums, and closing independent media. Ortega is also accused of killing of political opponents and ordering the arrest of opposition candidates.

On Friday, a major international rights group, the Organisation of American States, called for independent investigation into the election’s aftermath, and said there was credible evidence that the electoral council had committed “serious and systematic violations of the fundamental rights of citizens” and committed fraud during the election. “The high abstention rates that are well-documented in this election not only undermine the government’s legitimacy, but also seriously undercut public confidence in electoral processes as a whole,” the delegation said.

There is no reason to suspect that the US would seek to interfere with the elections in Panama or Nicaragua, but Ortega’s history of political violence and interference with democracies in Latin America are reasons for concern. In Nicaragua, Ortega’s victory, though expected, led to violent protests as right-wing parties and citizens turned against his rule. Independent media outlets have shut down, pressure has been brought against critics by various security agencies, and widespread intimidation of opposition parties is ongoing. A tweet of a masked revolutionary who proclaimed that Ortega had become a martyr to the struggle against U.S. imperialism has spread across social media. The images of peaceful protestors being led away in police vehicles have been widely circulated on social media. “What we really need in Nicaragua is something that looks like a real civil society,” Juan Cortés, a journalist with Radio El Mocambo who was arrested two weeks ago said in a recent interview. “What we are seeing now is that repression is not an alternative; it’s killing the alternative. It is necessary that we find a popular response to this.”

The Nicaraguan vote was delayed more than a month, due to the opposition’s refusal to recognize the electoral council’s decision to postpone the final vote count, which they claimed was biased in favor of Ortega. On Tuesday, Ortega confirmed that he had won the election. “The people have spoken, and we know the word,” Ortega told his campaign workers.

In response to Ortega’s victory, the opposition created a list of demands. The list called for the resignation of the election council president and called for a trial for Ortega’s government. The opposition wants to ensure that presidential, parliamentary and legislative elections are held simultaneously. However, the opposition has failed to unite and seem conflicted about the possible outcome of Ortega’s win. Each individual party is still considering their next steps.

In Managua, a small opposition demonstration took place on Thursday. Police barricaded the main streets to prevent anti-government protests taking place. Authorities claim that there are over 500 armed groups occupying the streets, and with the presidential address, the government sounded the alarm of possible violence. Mayor of Managua Pedro Reyes said over 50,000 police, military and National Police officers would mobilize to reinforce security in the capital on Saturday. The country is in danger of slipping back into military rule, feared rights groups.

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