Ortega’s single party regime in Nicaragua

By eliminating the November elections, Ortega anticipates a crisis of legitimacy, and defies the national and international community

10 de agosto 2021


By cancelling the legal status of the Citizens for Liberty (CxL) party, and thus eliminating the presidential candidacy of Óscar Sobalvarro, the last opposition aspirant, Daniel Ortega liquidated the November 7 elections, turning them into a single-party and single-candidate ballot. 

Cattle businessman Óscar Sobalvarro, known as Comandante “Ruben” of the Counterrevolution in the eighties, became an accidental candidate, after Ortega imprisoned his main political competitors, the opposition presidential aspirants: Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, Noel Vidaurre and more than 20 political and civic leaders.

In reality, the November 7 elections were already seriously questioned in their legality and legitimacy even before the annulment of CxL, for being held without political competition, under a police state regime that has violated all democratic freedoms since the April 2018 massacre, keeping more than 140 political prisoners in prisons. Without national or international electoral observation, with a Supreme Electoral Council controlled by the Sandinista Front party, which created an electoral counter-reform with laws that criminalize the opposition and allow the inhibition of its candidates, there was no minimum guarantee of electoral transparency.

However, in some national sectors there was the illusion that the blue and white political majority would turn out to vote for the only registered opposition party on election day, regardless of its candidates, to challenge Ortega or at least to denounce a massive fraud. Another alternative interpretation suggested that in the absence of electoral guarantees and of a leadership capable of inspiring hope for change, an important part of the electorate would abstain from voting on its own, while CxL would participate, without conditions, to preserve its legal status and become the second electoral force, aspiring to be a future political interlocutor of Ortega.

Both conjectures were erased with the stroke of a pen this Friday, August 6, three months before the elections, when Ortega eliminated CxL’s legal status, imposing a single party election, in which he and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, candidates for reelection, will no longer have contenders. Only the Sandinista Front and five other collaborationist parties will now participate in the November 7 elections: the PLC, which called for the elimination of CxL; the PLI, which promoted the stripping of the electoral box from the democratic opposition in 2016; and the remnants of ALN, APRE, CCN, and the regional party Yatama.

This way, Ortega accelerated the November 7 results, aggravating the crisis of his own reelection in advance, without political competition. This is a reckless gamble, revealing his determination to govern without political legitimacy, hardening the repressive strategy to extreme levels in order to sustain a totalitarian regime in power. And, therefore, it calls for a proportional response, with maximum political, diplomatic and economic pressure, nationally and internationally, to reestablish the path towards a democratic transition, definitively, without Ortega and without Murillo.

First of all, It is a life and death challenge for the Nicaraguan society whose demands for democratization and justice, raised in the April 2018 Rebellion, fell by the wayside. T​​he main reason for the failure lies in the ruthless repression unleashed by the dictatorship, but the mistakes of the opposition leadership that should be critically evaluated also contributed. Beginning with the decision to separate the electoral route from a permanent strategy of civic resistance; and with the ideological political sectarianism of CxL which disdained the imperative of national unity, in order to put more pressure on the regime with the participation of all sectors of the country. The mistake of divorcing the elections from the civic resistance is being paid dearly with the decapitation of the opposition leadership, imprisoned or in exile, while the legal status of CxL did not provide it with any insurance to stop Ortega's longed-for single party project. Since 2009, when he was already beginning to co-govern with big businessmen, without democracy or transparency, Ortega expressed his preference for the Cuban political model when he candidly declared: “the multiparty system divides the nation” at Mesa Redonda, a cuban television show. 

Now that the doubts about November 7 have been dispelled, new questions arise in Nicaragua that should be answered now, without waiting for Ortega's inauguration in 2022: Can the opposition re-launch the civic resistance, while demanding the release of all political prisoners? Will the business class accept a single party regime, without political legitimacy? Will it accommodate Ortega's authoritarian rules, as before 2018, or will it impose effective democratic limits? What role will the moral leadership of the Catholic Church play?

And will public employees -civilian and military- who are also Ortega's hostages, endorse the elimination of democratic elections? 

On the other hand, the imposition of a one-party regime also poses a formidable challenge to the international community, from our neighbors in Central America, to the OAS, the UN, the U.S. Will CABEI continue to finance the Ortega regime, without democracy and with serious human rights violations? Will the OAS foreign ministers meet to discuss the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter? Will Mexico and Argentina persist in their policy of abstention? Can the United States, the European Union and the UN coordinate multilateral actions to exert effective pressure to weaken the political and economic support bases of the regime? Will the Vatican remain indolent in the face of serious human rights violations, or will it mediate to prevent the normalization of violence?

External pressure, although essential, can never replace domestic political pressure, but it will only be more effective if it begins to be exercised with determination now, when all of Nicaragua is hostage to the dictatorship. Meanwhile, this August 7, with the inauguration of Ortega's one-party regime, the countdown to the economic and social deterioration of the country begins, with an increasingly painful cost for thousands of Nicaraguan families who are forced to emigrate in search of an alternative life. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff


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Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.