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'Rigged': Criticism mounts of Nicaragua's 'sham' elections under Ortega

Ahead of the election, credible opponents were jailed, campaign events of rival parties were banned and laws were passed criminalizing opponents for “betraying the homeland.”
Image: Nicaragua electon
People wait in line to vote during the general election at a polling station in Managua, Nicaragua, on Sunday. Oswaldo / AFP - Getty Images

As Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega closes in on a fourth consecutive term, the U.S. and the international community, including human rights groups, are condemning what they are calling “sham” elections.

By Monday morning, Ortega was ahead with 75 percent of the vote with almost half of the polling places counted. The election determines who will be president for the next five years, as well as who will hold 90 of the 92 seats in the Congress, meaning Ortega will have near-total control of Nicaragua.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday that the outcome "has long been a foregone conclusion." The government eliminated any real choice for voters by "repression and electoral manipulation," including imprisoning presidential candidates, Blinken said.

"We will continue to use diplomacy, coordinated actions with regional allies and partners, sanctions, and visa restrictions, as appropriate, to promote accountability for those complicit in supporting the Ortega-Murillo government’s undemocratic acts," Blinken said.

His statement was preceded by President Joe Biden's strongly worded statement Sunday night saying that the “pantomime election” was “neither free nor fair” and that it was “rigged” well before election day.

Election observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States were not allowed to monitor the polls, and journalists have not been allowed into the country.

Ahead of Sunday, credible opponents were jailed and Ortega had banned large campaign events of rival parties. The little-known candidates who were allowed to run are members of parties aligned with his government. Laws were also passed that criminalize opponents for “betraying the homeland.”

“Urnas Abiertas, a citizens’ electoral observatory, registered more than 200 acts of political violence and acts of electoral coercion on election day, including the presence of parapolice forces in the vicinity of the voting stations, as well as intimidation and coercion of state workers to force them to vote,” the Americas director of Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said in a statement.

The E.U. strongly criticized the election in a statement. “The integrity of the electoral process was crushed by the systematic incarceration, harassment and intimidation of presidential pre-candidates, opposition leaders, student and rural leaders, journalists, human rights defenders and business representatives,” it said.

As the government has become increasingly repressive under Ortega, thousands of Nicaraguans have fled to the U.S. and neighboring countries.

“In the last few years, we’ve witnessed first-hand the plot of a horror thriller developing in the country, where deadly police repression, wrongful imprisonment, ill-treatment, harassment and criminalization of human rights defenders and journalists are common practices, all of them endorsed by a judiciary without independence and a National Assembly that exists only to rubber stamp Daniel Ortega’s repressive agenda," Guevara-Rosas said.

Ortega, a former Marxist rebel who turns 76 on Thursday, helped overthrow the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s and served as president from 1985 to 1990. He served one term and was voted out. He returned to power in 2007. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is vice president.

Biden’s statement said the “Ortega and Murillo family now rule Nicaragua as autocrats, no different from the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago.”

Ortega claimed that the U.S. and other “powers” intervened in Sunday’s elections. He said the election was a victory delivered by the “immense majority of Nicaraguans.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said U.S. calls for countries not to recognize the outcome were “unacceptable.”

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