Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So Who Won?

Following up on my earlier post, Nicaragua's national elections were held on November 6th. So who won?

The short answer is that Daniel Ortega and the FSLN won a resounding victory with 62% of the vote and 63 seats in the National Assembly.  Opposition candidate Fabio Gadea and the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) won 31% of the vote and 27 seats.  Former president Arnoldo Alemán wasn't really a factor, pulling only 6%.

The long answer very much depends on who you read or talk to.  Gadea has refused to recognize the results, explicitly saying that he won the vote and that Ortega committed a massive fraud.  Gadea's coalition mates, the breakaway Sandinista group MRS, have called Ortega a dictator and the opposition newspapers, such as La Prensa, have loudly denounced him.  However, a planned protest march fizzled.

The opposition points to a number of irregularities to make their case.  In some cases observers from the opposition parties and third-party groups were refused access to the polling places.  The election authorities have also not published precinct-by-precinct election results which would allow for a more comprehensive audit.  There were also accusations that the government was selectively delaying requests for new ID cards, which are required to vote.  (Update: More Ortega criticism here from Envio.)

Such irregularities, along with the experience of past elections, open the door to the idea that the incumbents were cooking the books.  The PLI is claiming that 450,000 to 500,000 votes were stolen although they haven't offered much in the way of proof to back their claims.  The good government group Ética y Transparencia published a statistical analysis claiming Ortega stole 150,000 votes -- a serious charge, but not one that would have reversed Ortega's 800,000 vote margin of victory.

In their defense, the Sandinistas point to a number of independent polls showing Ortega surging in the weeks before the election.  A series of CID-Gallup polls showed steadily increasing support for Ortega and a final poll by Nicaragua's most respected pollster gave Ortega 58%.  Sandinista supporters have also responded to the charges of irregularities in the election process.

I haven't dug deep enough to know how consequential these irregularities are, although my sense from the (unrepresentative sample of) people I've talked to is that, while there may have been some problems they didn't affect the outcome.  Ortega won the election, and he won by implementing popular programs and riding the crest of a growing economy.

Which is not to say that the problems with the electoral process aren't real and troubling.  Of the three official international observing teams (from the EU, the Organization of American States and the Latin American Council of Election Experts) both the EU and OAS reports detailed numerous structural and process problems with the elections.  But the words of the head of the EU observation mission seem to sum up the uncertainty fairly well: "as to whether or not Daniel Ortega won, he won. Beyond that I won’t say."

[PS -- If you're looking for English language reporting on Nicaragua you should check out the new Nicaragua Dispatch (which leans anti-Ortega) or the Nicaragua Network (which leans left).]

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