What to watch in Nicaragua's election Sunday

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is poised to easily win the race, despite many claims that it is unconstitutional for him to run for re-election.

Enrique De La Osa/Reuters
A car drives past under a political campaign billboard of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and presidential candidate Fabio Gadea (R) in Managua November 3. Nicaragua holds presidential elections on Sunday with incumbent Daniel Ortega favored to win a second consecutive term for his party of former Marxist guerrillas, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Two pieces of analysis you should know about the Nicaragua election this Sunday

1. President Ortega is the favorite to legitimately win the most votes in the Nov. 6 election in Nicaragua. He leads in all the polls. Barring a 10 point swing in the final week or a 15 point hidden "gueguense" vote (both are possible, but not likely) the president should win in the first round by a decent margin. Why is he leading? The economy is doing relatively well and many people feel they are doing better today than they were five years ago. It certainly helps Ortega that the opposition has been divided, run a poor campaign and has uninspiring leadership

2. President Ortega has rigged the system to help him win the election. He has used his control over the courts to run for reelection in spite of constitutional restrictions. He has maintained control of the Supreme Electoral Council and left in a corrupt official to run it. The government has been selective with distributing new identity cedulas, creating controversy. The government is not allowing full international observation, only "accompaniment." A number of local civil society organizations say they are unable to properly monitor the election given the government restrictions. Recently, the government has threatened to disqualify a number of opposition candidates for Congress, which could create a controversy in the weeks following the election.

The combination of those two points raises a pretty clear question, one that is hard for many outside observers to understand: Why would Ortega bend the rules and manipulate institutions if he's capable of winning fairly?

  • He wants to be certain to win. Ortega led all the polls in 1990, only to lose on election day. He doesn't want that to happen to him again.
  • He wants to win big. It's not enough to just barely squeeze a win past a divided opposition as he did in 2006. Ortega wants to win big to claim a mandate for his policies.
  • He wants to win at all levels. It's not enough to just win the presidency. He wants to fully control the legislature as well as the courts and local levels of government. Ortega understands the importance of controlling all levels of government (which also explains the electoral fraud in the 2008 municipal elections), not just creating a super-empowered executive branch.
  • Here's what to watch on Sunday:

    1. Does Ortega win in the first round as expected and by how large of a margin?
    2. How does the opposition respond to an Ortega victory? Some have threatened to protest the problems with the election, However, they will have a hard time arguing that the presidency was "stolen," given that Ortega is expected to win a plurality of votes.
    3. In the event that Fabio Gadea wins enough votes to force a second round, how does Ortega respond?
    4. What happens to the Congress?
    5. Are there allegations of fraud and are they credible?
    6. How are domestic and international groups attempting to observe the election treated and are they restricted?
    7. What are the statements from the US and European countries who condemned the 2008 municipal elections and cut off aid in response to that event? Do they accept Ortega's victory fully, with some hesitation or not at all? Do they offer to return some aid or do they threaten to cut even more?

    Additionally, the story will continue beyond Sunday night. The court battles over candidates and ballot counting will take time, even if the initial election results are announced and accepted.
    Additional items to read: BBC, McClatchy, TicoTimes and be sure to check out The Nicaragua Dispatch and Confidencial for more coverage of everything going on.

    --- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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