As President Daniel Ortega prepares for his third inauguration Tuesday afternoon, an international group of former political leaders calling themselves the “Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter” is still fretting over the questionable electoral process that led to his reelection last November.
“This last election was the least transparent and least verifiable national election in Nicaragua in the past 20 years,” reads the group’s Jan. 6 statement. “It set a negative precedent for Nicaragua’s democratic future and also for the hemisphere, as most countries have failed to respond to this slide in accepted democratic practices.”
While most foreign governments have withheld judgment from the Sandinistas’ electoral endeavors, perhaps their true appraisal of Nicaragua’s democratic process is being expressed in the roll call at today’s inaugural hoodang.
Only 10 heads of state—including a glob of foreign leaders whose countries have no meaningful relationship with Nicaragua, but have always wanted to see Managua in January— will be in attendance at today’s inaugural fiesta. In addition to the Caribbean sightseers—Suriname’s unfamiliar president and the unrecognizable prime ministers of Aruba and Curacao— the Sandinista chieftain will also be sharing the stage with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, whose right-wing government Ortega has only recognized tacitly following the 2009 coup of his buddy Mel Zelaya.
With the exception of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan tovarishch Hugo Chávez, other participating governments are sending the equivalent of their diplomatic junior varsity squads or freshmen redshirts.
Critics of Nicaragua’s democratic process claim that was to be expected.
The Friends of the Democratic Charter group says the “lack of transparency” combined with “numerous anomalies” that plagued Nicaragua’s Nov. 6 general elections, “Damaged the credibility of the elections for important sectors of the Nicaraguan population and made it impossible to independently verify the actual results, especially regarding the correct allocation of deputies in the new National Assembly.”
The chums of the democratic document say the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council’s shoddy job running the polls—a performance, they say, that lacked neutrality, independence and professionalism—is particularly alarming “after the fraud documented in the 2008 municipal elections.”
Instead of working to improve Nicaragua’s dubious electoral system following the 2008 electoral fiasco, the CSE magistrates worked diligently on making its officialdom even more questionable for 2011, the group says.
The Friends of the Democratic Charter is a gaggle of 14 former presidents, ministers, secretaries, directors and political leaders from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and the United States. The group represents a spectrum ranging from stuffy conservatives (former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, Former Ecuadoran President Osvaldo Hurtado and former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark) to bomb-throwing liberals (former Salvadoran rebel leader Joaquín Villalobos, founder of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front).
The group also calls into serious question the Sandinista-dominated Supreme Court’s decision to allow Ortega to circumvent the law to run for reelection last year, despite the Constitution’s best efforts to clearly prohibit such activity. The political quid pro quo to extend the terms of magistrates, judges and other officials by presidential decree, “Raised further questions about the independence of democratic institutions and essential mechanisms of accountability in Nicaragua,” the group says.
“Nicaragua now shows signs of an accretion of executive power in a manner that threatens the authority and powers of the other institutions of government and undermines the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable,” the mixed group said.
The democracy defenders are calling on the international community to “Monitor the state of democracy in Nicaragua and to take steps consistent with their mandates to encourage a return to open and transparent elections.”
To do so, the group argues, Nicaragua must send its wayward electoral magistrates back to remedial math class and replace them with new warm bodies who have some semblance of probity, respect and credibility.
“It is particularly important to reform the electoral process before the municipal elections of 2012,” the group says.
But for those who suckled on the teat of electoral mischief, reforming the system might not be a top priority.
Rene Núñez, the Sandinistas’ perennial president of the National Assembly, said Monday that the priorities of the new congress will be economic and social issues, starting with the budget, customs reforms and a new Family Code.
In fact, when listing the projects the National Assembly will ponder this year, he didn’t even mention reforming the electoral system, perhaps indicating that the Sandinistas might try to ride that warhorse to one more victory in this year’s municipal elections.