Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Ortega, electoral observation and the spoils of democracy


Election observation is fundamental to legitimizing elections. Therefore, countries that regulate observation accredit national and international organizations that impartially analyze and report on the quality and integrity of elections. To this end, contributions are obtained from civil society and political parties, as well as electoral bodies, to assess the conditions, organization and regulations of the elections.

However, what happens when elections are not free and transparent, or worse, when they are held in non-democratic contexts? What is the place of election observation? None.

During the Nicaraguan general elections of November 2021, members of the opposition were arrested, including presidential hopefuls and academics such as José Antonio Peraza, member of the Council of Experts on Electoral Transparency and author of the book “El régimen de Ortega ¿Una nueva dictadura familiar en the continent?” and a famous investigation that confirmed fraud in previous municipal elections.

In addition, independent media were silenced, sectors of civil society were attacked and the international election observation recommended by the OAS (Organization of American States) was denied. Today, electoral integrity in Nicaragua is a thing of the past.

In 2011, the party-based Supreme Electoral Council excluded members of opposition parties and refused to accredit their election monitors or allow them to track the vote count. Last year, it reduced the time allowed for carrying out campaigns and marking ballots.

The CSE weakened the autonomy of parties and added discretionary powers over summations (counting), publication of results, complaints, contestations and appeals. Fundamentally, the CSE also did not clarify the criteria for delimiting constituencies, limited the principle of equal voting and submitted the design of electoral districts to political rather than technical criteria.

The absence of electoral observation missions in Nicaragua in 2021 is one of the variables that explains the country’s placement at the bottom of the Latin American Electoral Observation Index, prepared by Electoral Transparency. Last November’s elections did not have any qualified observation missions, such as those of the OAS, the EU (European Union) or the Carter Center. The last OAS and EU observation missions took place in 2011.

In 2021, there were no national or international observation missions of a technical nature, since the only figure covered is that of electoral monitoring, carried out by members of the ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Differentiating between electoral observation and monitoring is very important today, given the proliferation of organizations that carry out false electoral observations and seek to validate electoral processes that absolutely lack integrity.

Electoral monitoring differs from observation in that it limits the freedom of expression and mobility of mission members, requires that the report not be published in some cases, and enables the host country to control the activities of the escorts.

According to the Carter Center (in 2012), the objective of monitoring is to invite foreigners to observe only the election day, and their presence is mostly symbolic. On the other hand, electoral observation consists of inviting international organizations to systematically and impartially evaluate an electoral process and, subsequently, make contributions to improve the integrity of the processes, strengthen voter confidence in institutions and inform society and the international community. about what happened.

There are other terms related to observation, such as veeduría, which implies a more restricted freedom and functions than observation. The veeduría is a mostly national observation mechanism, in which citizens monitor different stages of the electoral process.

In Nicaragua, the incorporation of the figure of electoral monitoring in the legislation took place in May 2021, when the National Assembly controlled by the FSLN approved the Law of Reform and Addition to the Electoral Law.

According to the Urnas Abiertas observatory, the change in mandate takes advantage of the lack of knowledge about these differences to explore ambiguities and close the door to organizations qualified to carry out electoral observation.

The law does not specify the duration of follow-up, the phases in which it participates or its connection with civil society actors; but the fundamental difference between Ortega’s electoral monitoring and electoral observation missions lies in their impartiality, precision, independence and methodology.

The ban on electoral observation in favor of monitoring generates certainty in only one aspect: the regime is concerned with keeping up appearances, the same reason why, on November 6th of this year, Nicaragua will hold municipal elections (although they have not yet been officially summoned).

If the 2021 presidential election process is any reference, what will happen in November should come as no surprise, as the official party’s objective is to co-opt all 153 city halls in the country without any competition.

According to an independent measure by the organization Urnas Abiertas, abstention in these elections reached 81.5%, although the official version of the CSE puts it at 34.7%. After imprisoning no less than seven rivals and exiling two others, Ortega secured his fourth consecutive term (fifth in total) in these elections.

In such a way, the country is entering these elections with no guarantees, especially after the Ortega regime replaced the holders of five mayors held by the opposition Citizens for Liberty (CxL) party on July 4th.

The measure is reminiscent of 2014, when in the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro, the opposing mayors of the municipalities of San Diego and San Cristóbal, in the states of Carabobo and Táchira, were removed and arrested (in an unprecedented case of intervention by the politicized judiciary). , respectively.

In other words, the municipal elections in November will take place in a context in which it is not known whether the elected authorities, if they belong to an opposition party, will be able to assume and exercise their functions, or if they will be able to end their term.

In any case, the suppression of qualified electoral observation is a consequence of Nicaragua’s democratic decline. Observation missions were among the actors who warned about the progressive evolution (although more violent when compared to other similar cases) of Ortega’s offensive against the electoral administration and democratic institutions, whose independence and integrity was completely lost.

*Translation from Spanish by Giulia Gaspar

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