Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Elections 2021

Another 5 Years for Daniel Ortega?

Although a presidential election is scheduled for November 7 in Nicaragua, it is unlikely to be free or fair.

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Daniel Ortega

75, president

Sandinista Liberation Front

“Whoever does not defend Nicaragua and asks for sanctions against Nicaragua, he does not deserve to call himself Nicaraguan. He has already lost his rights to run for public office.”


President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) controls the legislature, judiciary and much of the media. When civil unrest exploded in 2018 amid calls for Ortega to step down, he labeled protestors “terrorists” and responded with violence. The crackdown left more than 300 people dead and more than 100 people are still being held behind bars arbitrarily. Over the past six months, Ortega has created a legal framework to consolidate power and ensure victory. The Foreign Agents Law and the Special Cybercrimes Law legally restrict freedom of expression and association and a law (passed by the National Assembly in December) gives his government the power to label citizens “terrorists” and ban them from running for office. Reforms that could have ensured free and fair elections — such as the Organization of American States’ recommendation of modernizing the Supreme Electoral Council — have seen no progress.


The opposition remains fragmented. Six presidential hopefuls (farm worker leader Medardo Mairena, journalist Miguel Mora, political scientist Félix Maradiaga, economist Juan Sebastián Chamorro, journalist Cristiana Chamorro and former rebel leader Luis Fley) agreed in February to unite around a single candidate through a democratic process, but many segments of the opposition have yet to join their alliance. Experts told AQ that if the opposition cannot unify around a candidate by the June registration deadline, they will have little hope of even posing a symbolic challenge to Ortega at the ballot box.


Ortega first rose to power in the wake of the Sandinista party’s overthrow of the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979. Part of the Sandinista governing junta, he would go on to win the presidency in open elections in 1984, later losing a re-election bid to Violeta Chamorro of the National Opposition Union in 1990. He was reelected in 2006, and became a popular leader, relying on Venezuelan oil to fund welfare programs. In 2014 he passed a set of constitutional amendments, approved by the FSLN-dominated National Assembly, to abolish term limits. This allowed him to be reelected in 2016. Flanked by Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, the president has tightened his grip ever since.


Ortega is likely to continue the regime’s repressive tactics of muzzling the opposition and the media, showing no signs of stopping after an electoral victory. His handling of the economy – GDP has been shrinking since 2017 – and the COVID-19 health crisis have helped erode his popularity ratings. An Inter-American Dialogue poll conducted in July has shown his approval falling below 20%, his lowest ever. International support may continue to falter, as the country’s close ally and financial supporter, Venezuela, is itself under sanctions. Still, there are no signs that Ortega will yield to international pressure during a possible third term. He recently rejected a report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warning of the growing human rights crisis, and he reiterated demands for an end to sanctions from the U.S. Without a change in tactics, experts say it is likely the destabilizing forces of the economic and health crisis will deepen and social unrest will continue to mount.

Tags: Daniel Ortega, Elections 2021, Nicaragua
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