A tin-pot election that started with the frightening possibility of electing a zombie government culminated in an overwhelming victory for the ruling Sandinista Front early Monday morning amid allegations of dirty tricks, official mischief, voter exclusion, political tomfoolery, post-electoral violence and system collapse.
The Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), an arithmetically challenged group of vest-clad knaves accused of rigging the past two elections according to political instruction, did little to ease concerns over their professional competency yesterday by failing to produce results the same day of the election. Though fewer than 2 million citizens voted on Sunday, the CSE’s laborious vote count dragged into Monday morning. Even the Sandinista enthusiasts who took to the streets Sunday night to celebrate their anticipated victory eventually tired of waiting on the CSE’s remedial-math languidness and head for home.
With 56% of the votes tallied after seven hours of counting, CSE boss Roberto Rivas finally began to present the preliminary election results in the most tedious and unintelligible way possible: by mumbling off each parties’ vote totals from all 153 municipalities in marble-mouth monotone, oftentimes forgetting to name which party was in the lead and sometimes losing his place on the list and repeating himself.
Based on Rivas’s park-bench ramblings, the CSE awarded the Sandinistas 127 of 153 municipalities, including virtually all the departmental capitals (Matagalpa is still up for grabs). Meanwhile, Rivas granted only one outright victory to the Independent Liberal Party (PLI)—the municipality of Antigua, Nueva Segovia—and one to the indigenous party YATAMA, which won Bilwi.
The remaining 20-plus municipalities—all the ones claimed by the PLI and PLC—were reported as “too close to call.”
The portly magistrate qualified many of the Sandinistas’ victories as “definitive” or “irreversible,” but refused to announce the winners in municipalities that the opposition claims to have won: La Paz Centro, Sebaco, Muy Muy, Ciudad Darío, Wiwili, Rio Blanco, Matagalpa, Tuma-La Dalia, Muelle de los Bueyes, Nueva Guinea and parts of Chontales.
“We won at least 18 municipalities and the PLC won two,” PLI strategist Eliseo Núñez told The Nicaragua Dispatch during 2:30 a.m. phone interview following Rivas’ presentation this morning. “We have the voting records showing we won those municipalities; there will be no negotiation with the Sandinistas.”
Núñez says an election day that started off quietly ended in bedlam.
As of early Monday morning, gangs of Sandinsitas and Liberals were clashing in La Paz Centro (León), there were reports of gunfire in Sebaco (Matagalpa) and Santo Domingo (Chontales), and bouts of violence in Jinotega. In addition, Núñez says the Sandinista Front reportedly cut the electricity in municipality of La Libertad (Chontales) when it started to appear that the PLI was going to win the mayor’s office in President Ortega’s hometown.
Rivas’s preliminary count
The CSE’s final vote count won’t be posted until Monday at 10:30 a.m. on the organization’s website, which is currently offline. However, several things were immediately apparent from Rivas’ preliminary Monday morning mumble.
First, the Sandinistas’ victory was overwhelming. Not only do they now control more than 80% of the municipalities, but their margin of victory in each case was remarkable, especially considering how sparsely populated many voting centers appeared to be on Sunday.
Second, the municipalities that the opposition claims to have won are still considered “up for grabs,” according to Rivas. Though the PLI insists they are not going to negotiate a settlement with the Sandinistas, the ruling party appears to be angling for a political deal by not recognizing any of the opposition victories in an attempt to see what they can negotiate. Anything could still happen in the next few days, and the Sandinistas only stand to gain even more ground before the final results are announced.
Third, the “zombie parties”—the ALN, APRE and the Conservative Party—are verifiably undead. In virtually all of the rural municipalities, the three phony parties won only one or two votes each. That means that not even the family members of the dead candidates voted for their deceased relative as a final gesture of loving memory. The shameful electoral performance by those three parties offers compelling mathematical proof of their inexistence and—incidentally—of the CSE’s corruption.
Getting worse with age
While Sunday’s election was initially hailed for its civility and tranquility, by the end of the day it was exposed as another flop production by Rivas & Co.
A Sandinista victory was never in doubt; the polls suggested they could win at least 70% of municipalities handily. But once again, under the sloppy electoral direction of Rivas, the ruling party managed to turn another slam-dunk election into a Pyrrhic victory, similar to 2008 and 2011 when the Sandinistas won locally yet lost international credibility.
The Sandinistas’ overreaching again raises the question: If the ruling party is strong and confident in their majority status, why can’t they have a transparent and fair election?
Instead, the repeated shenanigans and the lower-than-expected voter turnout only casts doubt on the Sandinistas’ supermajority status. Rivas claims “approximately 57%” of the population voted on Sunday, but analysts claim the abstention level was probably closer to 57%–more than 10 percentage points higher than the previous municipal election.
The voting queues that typically characterize Nicaraguan elections were few and far between on Sunday, and that’s not a testament to the CSE’s efficiency.
By noon, it became clear that voter abstention could reach a historic high, and that the 70% turnout that Rivas predicted before the election was going to be wildly off-base. Sandinista media outlets and party apparatchiks tried their best to coax folks to the polls at the last minute to legitimize the election process. They repeated with incessant fervor how tranquil, transparent, efficient and joyous the voting process was.
But no level of official triumphalism could mask the poor turnout, which did not improve as the day went on. While some voting centers did have queues, many were entirely vacant. At Granada’s largest voting center, poll watchers and electoral police were seen sitting on the curb in front of the building at 2 p.m., drinking Coke from plastic bags and looking bored with nothing to do.
At a smaller voting station at Granada’s INIFOM office, where 400 Granadinos are registered to vote, electoral police stood around like potted plants guarding a door that no one was trying to enter. Inside the voting station, poll watchers with no poll to watch were practically lying prostrate on the floor.
The occasional appearance of a voter was cause for sudden buzz, as electoral officials jumped to their feet and all tried to find the voters’ name on the registration list.
As the call to vote continued to go out, some undecided voters eventually capitulated and went to their local voting precinct to exercise their civic right.
“I wasn’t going to vote, but I finally went and marked my ballot null as a protest vote…for the first time ever,” said one Granadina.
‘Raton Loco’ and other mousy mischief
The biggest opposition complaint yesterday was over inconsistencies in the voter registries. Many voters claimed their names had mysteriously disappeared from the voter registration lists posted at the voting centers where they had voted all their lives. Others complained that their names appeared on the main voter registration posted on the front wall of the voting center, but not on the list at the voting booth, which prevented them from casting their ballot.
The voter-registration problems are so chronic in Nicaragua that the phenomenon has its own name: “raton loco”—named after the voters who are made to run around like one of the three blind mice trying to figure out where they are supposed to vote (see how they run).
Complaints of all the other “usual tricks” also surfaced later in the day: exclusion and expulsion of opposition poll watchers, voter-intimidation, exclusion of opposition voters and double-voting by the ruling party.
Official obstructionism was reportedly intense in Managua, where the PLI denounced that 662 of its poll watchers were never given proper accreditation.
But by the end of the day, even more allegations of irregularities began to surface in key battlegrounds such as Matagalpa, Chontales, Boaco, Madriz, León, and Estelí.
Since most of the country was asleep when the preliminary results were announced at 2 a.m., the reaction to yesterday’s elections won’t be felt until today, when Nicaragua wakes up to a one-party government. The electoral observers are also expected to offer their first reports today.
The opposition PLI, meanwhile, will be put to test starting today to defend their vote and not get pushed out of the picture.