Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega last night offered his first public reaction to last Sunday’s municipal elections with a bit of Yogi Berra-like logic, “The people voted for the people and so the people can’t let the people down.”
The president called the Sandinistas’ victory historic, but did not mention the post-electoral violence or continued militarization in parts of Matagalpa and Nueva Guinea.
“This was another historic victory and it doesn’t surprise us—everyone already knew it would happen,” Ortega said during an act to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the death of Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founder Carlos Fonseca.
“It was a preannounced victory, it was a preannounced victory and that’s why they tried to sabotage the elections, to boycott the elections, and tried to prevent people from going to deposit their vote in the elections,” the president said.
The opposition, however, argues the point of elections is to count the ballots, not to preannounce victories or appoint winners. And that’s exactly what the two Liberal factions think happened in at least six municipalities in Matagalpa, Río San Juan, Estelí and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), where the FSLN was awarded victories despite opposition arithmetic that suggests the polls were won by the right-wing Independent Liberal Party (PLI) and the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC).
All accredited poll watchers are given official copies of the ballot tallies from their voting precincts. Those vote tallies—known as “actas” in Spanish—provide a written record of the votes cast in each voting station, a type of electoral receipt. When a party adds together all its actas from each municipality, the number should—in theory—be the same if not very similar to the final vote tally reported by the CSE.
In several municipalities, however, the opposition claims the Sandinista-controlled CSE got creative with the arithmetic by bending mathematical logic in at least six municipalities to award victory to the ruling party.
The PLI is presenting technical appeals in 21 municipalities where their math differs from the CSE’s. The opposition party says without a doubt they can prove victory in three municipalities that were awarded to the FSLN: Matiguás and Ciudad Darío, in the department of Matagalpa, and El Almendro in the department of Río San Juan.
The PLI also suspects fraud in the municipality of La Paz Centro, León, which was the scene of post-electoral rioting and arson, but says it doesn’t have 100% of the its voting “actas” to defend the vote there. The situation has reportedly returned to calm in La Paz Centro, as the opposition focuses its efforts in other municipalities.
Government functionaries, meanwhile, are calling on the opposition to accept the CSE’s vote count.
“The elections transpired normally, in peace and tranquility. The people of Nicaragua gave an example of civility, they participated and they have to respect the results because violence doesn’t bring anything,” said Sandinista deputy ombudsman Adolfo Jarquín Ortel, who was a leading apologist for the 2011 elections by discrediting the observations by the EU mission. “(The opposition) is trying to justify their loss and trying to sell the idea that there were irregularities to minimize their loss. But the truth is they have to accept they lost.”
Crunching the numbers
In Matagalpa, where post-electoral tensions have led to a militarization of Matiguás—allegedly to prevent ex-contra reinforcements from the nearby area of La Patriota from entering the town to support the protestors—the PLI says it’s not going to go away quietly.
Edgar Matamoros, the PLI’s mayoral candidate for the nearby municipality of Ciudad Darío, traveled to Managua yesterday with official copies of voting records from 20 polling stations that he says were never published by the CSE. Matamoros says the inclusion of those 20 voting precincts gives the PLI a clear but narrow victory in Ciudad Darío with10,382 votes, compared to the FSLN’s 9,404 votes.
Matamoros claims the voting actas from an additional six polling stations were destroyed in the CSE transmission center to invented new numbers that were more favorable to the FSLN. The former mayoral candidate questioned why it’s taking the CSE so long to count and publish all the votes in Ciudad Darío.
“Why can’t they count 19,000 votes in four days?” he demanded.
Officially, the FSLN won Ciudad Darío with a three-percentage point lead over the PLI—50.76% to 47.52%, according to the CSE. The CSE claims 17,931 ballots have been counted, meaning there are 1,855 votes still unaccounted for, according to the PLI’s records. The opposition party claims the missing votes put them in the lead.
Similar discrepancies are being reported in the municipalities of Matiguás and El Almendro, where the PLI claims similarly tight victories despite the CSE’s reporting to the contrary.
Citing their party’s official copy of the actas, the PLI claims it won 7,930 valid votes in Matiguás to beat the FSLN by 374 votes. The CSE, however, reports 535 fewer votes in that municipality, giving a slight advantage to the FSLN, which was awarded a narrow 79-vote victory over the PLI, 48.91% to 48.38%.
In the municipality of El Almendro, Río San Juan, the PLI’s ballot tally is wildly different from that reported by the CSE. The PLI reports the actas for El Almendro show they won 7,930 votes and the FSLN won 7,556. The CSE, meanwhile, reports only 5,550 total ballots for the entire municipality, giving the FSLN a 14-ballot lead over the PLI. It’s not clear on the CSE’s website if that number is supposed to represent their final tally, or whether the CSE has only counted one-third of the votes. Either way, the PLI’s records show there are 9,936 missing ballots in El Almendro.
PLI party coordinator Eduardo Montealegre demands the CSE must continue counting until all the ballots have been tallied.
“After an complicated electoral process with very high levels of voter abstention due to a lack of confidence in the CSE, problems with double voting, with the ‘ratón loco,’ and soldiers voting two or three times in voting precincts where they are not supposed to vote, it is unacceptable that the CSE does the same thing they did in 2008 in Managua and other municipalities where they said that 85% of the vote was good enough to show a tendency and declare a winner,” Montealegre said.
The PLI coordinator also expressed his party’s solidarity with the minority PLC, which claims it had victories stolen in the municipalities of Nueva Guinea, Siuna and La Trinidad. In La Trinidad, Estelí, the CSE claims the FSLN beat the PLC by a twiggy 43 votes, prompting street protests.
The PLI, curiously enough, did not express solidarity with their Liberal rivals in the municipality of La Cruz de Río Grande, where the PLC claims the PLI won by working in cahoots with the FSLN.
The situations in the streets of Matagalpa and Nueva Guinea reportedly continues to be very tense as the military restricts the movement of people in and out of the contested towns.
“There is practically a military blockade of Matiguás; the situation is very tense,” says PLI campaign strategist and congressman Eliseo Núñez.
The situation is equally volatile in Nueva Guinea, where the incumbent PLC claims the CSE padded the FSLN’s vote count by nearly 3,000 ballots to give the ruling party victory with a 461-ballot cushion.
“The situation is very, very tense here; there are nearly 600 soldiers surrounding the town. It has been totally militarized and now they are sending troops from other municipalities that are returning to calm,” PLC mayor Denis Obando told The Nicaragua Dispatch this afternoon in a phone conversation from Nueva Guinea.
Obando says despite the “repression” his supporters are going to march on the town at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon and again on Sunday. He says that other supporters can’t get to Nueva Guinea because of military roadblocks set up around the town, so he is calling on supporters in other areas to conduct simultaneous and concentrated protests in their own villages.
“The situation is a pressure cooker,” the mayor says.