MANAGUA – Amid mounting allegations of voting fraud and explosive bouts of post-electoral street violence in different parts of the country, the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) this week filed a formal legal request with the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to revise the ballots from the hotly contested Nov. 9 municipal elections, which gave most of the 146 mayorships up for grabs to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front.
PLC Vice President Wilfredo Navarro presented the revisionary request Monday afternoon after the CSE’s first recount reaffirmed the original vote-count results in Managua, handing Sandinista candidate and former boxer Alexis Argüello a provisional victory with 51 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for the PLC challenger Eduardo Montealegre. The PLC declined to accept those results, claiming its own vote tally shows Montealegre won with more than 50 percent of the vote (NT, Nov. 14).
Montealegre held an interactive town-hall style conference Monday to show the official vote tallies that he claims indicate fraud.
The CSE’s Managua vote recount –announced Nov. 13 – was intended to reassure the population of the earlier results, yet the conditions of the recount were even less transparent than the original count, casting an even longer shadow of doubt over the entire electoral process. Critics argue that the recount was illegitimatized by massive amounts of annulled ballots and an unlikely vote total for Argüello, who, according to the CSE, won nearly a quarter of a million votes, representing some 75,000 more than the popular Sandinista Mayor Dionisio Marenco won in Managua four years ago and around 50,000 more than President Daniel Ortega won in Managua just two years ago.
Outgoing Mayor Marenco has raised doubts about how Argüello could have won so many votes, claiming that a more reasonable trajectory based on the vote totals won by the past two Sandinista mayors would put Argüello around 150,000 votes – far shy of the 220,000 the CSE is giving him.
One analyst this week called the alleged vote-inflation “laughable.”
Even two of the CSE’s own magistrates – PLC members René Herrera and José Marenco – have denounced alterations in the official CSE vote tallies that were published last Friday, claiming that some of the published results were different from those managed internally by the CSE.
The Sandinistas are now claiming to have won between 101 and 106 of the 146 municipalities that voted Nov. 9, up from the 91 they claimed the day after the election.
“By playing judge and jury the CSE has lost all credibility in favor of instituting a totalitarian dictatorship,” PLC spokesman Leonel Teller told The Nica Times.
Teller said the PLC is not recognizing any of the results of the CSE and maintains its call for a nationwide, vote-by-vote recount with credible international observation. He said the PLC will “exhaust” all administrative and legal channels in Nicaragua before taking its complaint internationally by arguing that there has been a rupture of the democratic order in Nicaragua.
The Sandinistas insist that the PLC are just being “bad losers” and have called on the opposition to “accept their defeat,” as the Sandinistas did in past elections. A group of Sandinistas marched on the CSE Monday to pressure the electoral branch to announce the definitive final results from the election.
“The CSE should publish the final results as soon as possible to end with all the manipulation by Montealegre,” Sandinista legislative leader Edwin Castro told The Nica Times this week.
Violence in León
Uncertainty over the electoral results and calls by political leaders to “defend the vote” against attempts of fraud by the other side have continued to fan a tense atmosphere of violence in the streets of Managua and the northern colonial city of León.
The PLC’s attempt to march on León last Sunday was frustrated when Sandinistas blocked the highway at more than a dozen points to prevent protesters from Managua from entering the city.
Armed with sticks, mortars, rocks and guns, bands of Liberals and Sandinistas clashed in the streets of Mateares and Nagarote – two towns between the capital and León – and in downtown León.
More than half a dozen people were injured, and Montealegre reported that mortar and gunshots were fired at his motorcade.
For residents caught in the middle, the political violence has been unsettling.
“It was a bit surreal; I’ve only experienced anything like it in Israel,” said one British expatriate who has lived in downtown León for more than five years. He asked to remain unidentified due to concerns of political reprisal for talking to the press.
The expat said that the fighting occurred outside his door, requiring him, his wife and two small children to “slip out behind the line” of Liberal Party loyalists who were preparing for battle with the Sandinistas one block away.
In between the two groups, he said, was a “no man’s land” that was filled with black smoke from burning tires.
The following day, he told The Nica Times that he’s “not panicking” and “doesn’t want to be chased out of the house yet,” but acknowledged that he has already started to develop a “contingency plan” to get his family out of the country if things get much worse.
“You start thinking about things like, what would we do if tear gas is fired on the street? We live in a typical León house with an open patio, but we wouldn’t be able to get out of the house with the fighting outside.”
Politics of Crisis
Nicaraguan political analyst Cirilo Otero said there could be political interests at play behind the crisis of ungovernability and bouts of street violence, which he said is being perpetuated mostly by “groups of unemployed delinquents who are being paid with liquor and food.”
By creating a situation of chaos and ungovernability, Ortega could be setting the scene to step in with the military and “start again under a different regime” of government, Otero warned.
The analyst recalled that former dictator Anastasio Somoza took advantage of the chaotic situation after the 1972 earthquake in Managua to justify the centralization of power and consolidate his dictatorship under the guise of an emergency measure.
The municipal elections, Otero said, could be Ortega’s earthquake.