Nicaragua’s electoral council on Friday disqualified the country’s main opposition party from upcoming presidential polls, in the latest move in an escalating political crackdown in the Central American country.
The Citizens for Liberty heads up the Citizens Alliance for Liberty (CXL) bloc, which is spearheading opposition to the reelection of President Daniel Ortega in November 7 polls.
But the Central American country’s Supreme Electoral Council blocked the CXL’s participation by ordering the “cancellation of the legal status of the Citizens for Liberty party,” according to a court ruling read before official media by the body’s secretary, Luis Luna.
The move is another step in a recent harsh political crackdown ahead of the vote, with critics accusing Ortega’s government of trying to prevent any meaningful opposition from standing in the November election.
Ortega, in power since 2007, is standing for a fourth consecutive term with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, once again as his running mate.
The ruling came after the right-wing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) — which is the largest opposition party in parliament and has indicated it would be willing to collaborate with the government — alleged the CXL was breaking the law.
The text from the PLC said the CXL was headed by a dual United States-Nicaragua national and charged that was “in clear violation of the law,” asking the council to “declare null and void all activities by the CXL.”
The electoral council, tied to the ruling party, also revoked the citizenship of the CXL head, Carmella Rogers Amburn, known in the political arena as Kitty Monterrey.
The council said the CXL president “used irregular procedures” and “has been behaving outside the conditions and legal technical regulations for this type of political organization.”
CXL denounced the stripping of Monterrey’s Nicaraguan nationality, leaving her with only US citizenship and in a position where she could be deported.
“The actions of the regime show how much they fear the civic electoral path,” the bloc wrote on Twitter.
The move comes just days after CXL said its candidate for the vice presidency was being held under house arrest without any justification.
The bloc said on Twitter that Berenice Quezada “was told by judicial authorities and the public ministry that from now on she was under house arrest without access to telephone communications and with restricted movement.”
It added the 27-year-old former beauty queen had been told she was “barred from running for public office” and must remain at her home in the capital Managua under police guard.
Quezada, who was Miss Nicaragua in 2017, was a surprise choice for running mate for the CXL’s presidential candidate Oscar Sobalvarro.
The 68-year-old former right-wing guerrilla was only picked to run in November’s election because five of the alliance’s presidential hopefuls were amongst at least 31 opposition figures, including seven potential presidential candidates, detained by authorities over the last two months.
They are accused of treason and threatening the country’s sovereignty under a controversial law approved in December that has been widely denounced as a means of freezing out challengers and silencing opponents.
The Supreme Electoral Council has until August 9 to either validate or reject the candidates proposed by parties and alliances standing in the elections.
With CXL out of the race, Ortega is poised to comfortably win reelection against five right-wing parties, labelled “collaborationists” by the opposition.
A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega also governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 when the United States backed armed opposition to his Sandinista movement.
Ortega later rebranded himself as a business-friendly pragmatist, but Western nations and the opposition say he is increasingly turning into a dictator as he seeks a stranglehold on power.
The international community has condemned the crackdown.
On Friday, the United States refused visas to another 50 Nicaraguans linked to Ortega, expanding a July 12 announcement of visa restrictions on more than 100 people including legislators and judges.
More than 30 officials and relatives of the Nicaraguan president have been slapped with travel and financial restrictions by the United States, the European Union and Canada in the last three years.
Ortega has minimized the pressures and said that Nicaragua has lived through “more difficult” situations, alluding to the political-military conflict he faced with the United States during his first term in office.