MANAGUA – Bright pink Sandinista campaign billboards that stretch blatantly across public buildings, campaign pamphlets handed out at public hospitals during periods of “electoral silence” and caravans of state-owned vehicles leading campaign rallies through the capital are among alleged electoral crimes that have gone unpunished in this year’s campaign.
Even electoral officials acknowledge that the age-old Nicaraguan tradition of using public resources for political campaigns was particularly conspicuous in this year’s mayoral campaign, having set the stage for an electoral climate in which impunity reigned.
Despite the obvious and eye-catching evidence on display for all the public to see – for instance the enormous Sandinista campaign signs stretching across government buildings such as the state food bank ENABAS and the State Security Institute – law enforcement officials are passing the buck when it comes to cracking down on electoral crimes.
Liberal legal representative in Managua Lulio Marenco filed 28 different complaints in October citing instances in which he says state institutions have violated Nicaragua’s electoral code by supporting the Sandinista campaign. So far, none has been investigated.
After their complaints went unprocessed, the Liberal Constitutional Party – Vamos con Eduardo Alliance filed a complaint alleging that police commissioner Glenda Zavala interfered in the investigations of electoral crimes.
“The passivity of the National Police is plainly evident after we turned in nearly 30 complaints without receiving a single response,” said Marenco.
National Police spokesperson Vilma Reyes said it’s not the job of the police to investigate electoral crimes.
“It’s always been our interpretation of the law that it’s the job of state prosecutors to investigate the crimes,” Reyes said But electoral crimes prosecutor Blanca Salgado said she needs police help to corroborate evidence for the investigation, which police have failed to do.
Among the allegations that Marenco made that weren’t investigated are: vandalized campaign billboards, defamatory and slanderous ads on TV Channel 4, Sandinista campaign ads on TV during periods of constitutionally mandated “electoral silence,” state buildings plastered with Sandinista flags and propaganda, and campaign pamphlets circulated in public buildings during electoral silence.
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) spokesman Felix Navarrete lamented that electoral crimes openly committed by both sides of the campaign have gone unpunished.
“Political declarations shouldn’t be made during electoral silence,” said Navarrete, adding that it’s not the CSE’s job to investigate the matter. Using state resources for political campaigns is punishable by up to two years in prison under Nicaraguan law.
Roberto Courtney, head of electoral observation group Ethics and Transparency, said political parties in Nicaragua have historically let the electoral crimes of their opponents go unpunished in the courts with hopes that the crimes will instead be “punished by the voters.”
But this year, Marenco said, the crimes went unpunished by the authorities, despite formal allegations.
When the daily La Prensa recently asked Sandinista mayoral candidate Alexis Argüello about his use of state resources for campaigning – he had used state-owned vehicles in his political rally through the capital – the candidate responded: “Every party does that.
If they do it in the United States … why wouldn’t we do it?”