With his win in the November 6 election, Daniel Ortega secured his third presidential term in Nicaragua. While few would deny the leader’s popularity, thanks in large part to aid from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the legitimacy of his position has been called into question because of the circumstances surrounding his win—and because the Nicaraguan constitution allows presidents to serve only two terms in office.
Out of concern for the validity of the recent election, members on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress have called for further examination of the political process, which was marred by numerous complaints of fraud and other irregularities. Reports indicate that monitors were refused entrance to certain stations to oversee voting and that Nicaraguans likely to support the opposition had trouble obtaining identification cards required for voting.
In response to the flawed election, Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D–NJ) have introduced a resolution “calling attention to the deterioration of constitutional order in Nicaragua.” The document notes that numerous organizations, including the U.S. State Department, the European Union Election Observation Mission, and the Mission of Electoral Accompaniment of the Organization of American States, recognized a lack of transparency in the proceedings, leading to doubts about the legitimacy of the election.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs also held a recent hearing to investigate the matter entitled “Democracy Held Hostage in Nicaragua: Part I,” during which Ambassador Jaime Daremblum testified to the need for the international community to stand against this attack on Nicaragua’s democracy. He stated that “By rigging elections, trampling the constitution, persecuting his political opponents, and bullying journalists, [Ortega] has laid the foundation for another Sandinista dictatorship.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Ambassador Robert Callahan, who echoed Daremblum’s concerns, saying that “Daniel Ortega’s candidacy was illegal, illegitimate, and unconstitutional.” Most tellingly, he pointed out that “the published results showed that Nicaraguans cast over 100,000 more votes for assembly candidates than for president, although all candidates appeared on the same ballot….it would seem very odd that so many more people cast a vote for legislators than for a president in the same election.”
While Ortega does enjoy considerable popularity in Nicaragua, mostly due to policies such as government handouts for the poor, his refusal to respect the nation’s constitution and resorting to running roughshod over the electoral process is reminiscent of practices associated with the dictatorship of the Somoza family. To prevent Nicaragua from going down this path, the international community must pressure Ortega to institute reforms that restore transparency, build an independent and nonpartisan electoral council, preserve term limits, and strengthen civil society.
Jen Gieselman is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm