Election Day Reflections: Nicaragua and the United States

by Hari Osofsky

As election day proceeds apace in the United States, it’s worth turning our gaze southward to note that the OAS’s Electoral Observation Mission has declared that the November 5, 2006 Nicaraguan elections were “peaceful and orderly, had a massive turnout and took place in accordance with the law.” It found an average citizen participation of approximately 70%, with only 2% of citizens in line who had not voted at the close of polls. It also reported that at 96% of polling places, vote counting followed legal procedures.

I hope that the United States can manage such a feat in an election in which, as NPR has reported, approximately a third of our voters are using new voting equipment, and many states have new voting rules. Early reports, as described in this AP story appearing in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, already suggest difficulties occurring with voting machines in many precincts.

The Nicaraguan elections also provide an interesting example because, as reported by the New York Times, Daniel Ortega appears likely to win without facing a run-off election. Although the past leader of Nicaragua has disavowed his previous Marxist positions and run a largely positive campaign, the United States has strongly opposed him throughout the election.

The United States has not been the only country taking sides. The New York Times article also notes that Ortega “maintains close ties to Cuba and to Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, the leftist president who has become a thorn in the side of the United States. Mr. Chávez gave the Ortega campaign significant support by sending subsidized oil to Nicaragua and distributing it through Sandinista politicians.”

In late October, the OAS’s observer mission criticized U.S. efforts to interfere in the election. In a nod to complex geopolitical dynamics, I include Xinhua’s October 22, 2006 story about this criticism below:

The Organization of American States (OAS)’s observer mission in Nicaragua said in a statement on Sunday that it “regretted” the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua’s presidential election campaign.

“The future of Nicaragua’s political institutions should depend only on the decision of the people of this nation,” the OAS mission said.

The OAS statement came after two recent public statements by U.S. officials that appeared to support Eduardo Montealegre, a candidate from the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance-Conservative Party coalition.

On Thursday last week, the U.S. trade minister, Carlos Gutierrez, told Nicaraguan press that if Daniel Ortega, candidate from the Sandinista National Liberation Front party, were to win the Nov. 5 election, it would put U.S. investments in Nicaragua atrisk.

On Saturday, U.S. ambassador in Nicaragua, Paul Trivelli, told media that a vote for the Liberal Constitutionalist Party’s candidate was effectively a vote for Ortega.

Trivelli had previously tried to form a coalition that included all of the country’s right-wing parties, in a bid to strengthen the anti-Ortega force.

The OAS has now complained twice about political interference in the election. In a Sept. 25 statement the organization said “other nations” should not interfere.

The OAS’s first statement came after Dan Burton, a U.S. Republican lawmaker, made public statements in Nicaragua alleging that Ortega’s party controlled the nation’s Supreme Electoral Council.

http://opiniojuris.org/2006/11/07/election-day-reflections-nicaragua-and-the-united-states/

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