Local government elections in Nicaragua, as elsewhere in the world, tend to reflect local concerns but also give a representative snapshot of support for political parties at national level. Until 2008, municipal elections in Nicaragua rarely elicited much interest at international level because, since 1990, little ever changed that might affect the national or regional status quo. The 2008 elections were also the first elections under the second Sandinista government giving Nicaragua's political opposition a chance to regain lost ground following their defeat in the Presidential elections of 2006.
In fact, the reverse happened. The Sandinista-led Alianza Nicaragua Triunfa managed to increase the number of local government authorities it controlled from just over 90 of the country's 153 municipalities, won in the 2004 municipal elections, to 109 municipalities in 2008. The main electoral battle was for Nicaragua's capital Managua which the Sandinistas won comfortably with their candidate, the hugely popular three times world boxing champion Alexis Argüello. He defeated the right wing candidate Eduardo Montealegre, compounding Montealegre's earlier defeat in the 2006 Presidential elections.
Nicaragua's political opposition reacted very fiercely to their 2008 electoral failure because it showed the Sandinistas could defeat even a united opposition. The results in those 2008 elections overturned political wisdom, accumulated since the landmark 1990 Presidential elections, which suggested that a united right wing political grouping would always defeat the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. The 2008 elections demonstrated beyond doubt that the Sandinista government's policies in favour of the impoverished majority were helping the FSLN consolidate a structural majority for future elections.
The right wing opposition parties responded to their 2008 electoral defeat with an unprecedented overseas disinformation campaign claiming electoral fraud. Within Nicaragua they were unable to mobilize support for that campaign because most people were well aware of two self-evident facts. Firstly, a growing majority of people recognized the validity of the FSLN's political programme both at local and at national level. Secondly, the façade of right wing unity for the municipal elections was contradicted by clear internecine back-biting and bitterness that were apparent throughout the 2008 election campaign.
One effect of the 2008 municipal elections was an almost immediate exponential increase in the North American and European psy-warfare campaign against the FSLN and its leaders, President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. The dominant minority-mainstream corporate media intensified their demented propaganda coverage in support of calls for cutting off development cooperation funding to Nicaragua. Supposedly progressive alternative media in North America and Europe blatantly seconded that insane counterfactual disinformation campaign.
President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo
The reality of the steady decline in support for Nicaragua's right wing parties became unquestionably clear through 2010 and 2011 as opinion polls one after another showed the increasing drop in support for right wing political leaders. In the 2011 Presidential and legislative elections, Daniel Ortega and the FSLN-led political alliance won the Presidency with a majority of over 20% and also easily took control of Nicaragua's National Assembly. Despite obvious disapproval and acrimonious criticism, even the Organization of American States and the European Union were forced to admit the legitimacy of the results.
Now, in the last couple of weeks prior to this year's municipal elections, even opinion poll companies regarded as tending to favour the Nicaraguan opposition put levels of support for right wing opposition political parties at around just 7% or 8%. Conversely, they register support for the Sandinista led political alliance at around 70%. It is no surprise that the FSLN has set itself the target of winning 130 of the country's 153 municipalities.
These 2012 municipal elections take place with various changes to the electoral rules. Many candidates are standing for re-election, which had previously not been possible. So very popular Sandinista candidates have a high chance of winning in many of the country's departmental capitals like Managua, Matagalpa and Estelí. Also, for the first time in these elections 50% of all candidates have to be women. This tends to favour the FSLN which has promoted equal women's participation in its internal party structures for over a decade, whereas the right wing political parties have not.
Other factors favour Sandinista candidates. They benefit from people's favourable view of government policies that have improved local infrastructure, education and health care. The government national electrification programme has transformed living standards for large numbers of people. Programmes to improve roofing for low-income households, extend access to micro-credit and promote small-scale family-based food production have benefited many tens of thousands of impoverished families. By contrast, the country's right wing political parties have been unable to offer coherent alternative policies.
What the right wing political opposition in Nicaragua continue to do is to criticize and question the integrity of the country's Supreme Electoral Council responsible for overseeing elections in Nicaragua. For months prior to the start of the electoral campaign, opposition leaders called for the presence of electoral observers. But when the CSE announced the invitation of an OAS electoral team, those same opposition critics complained that such observation would only legitimize what they regard as an already organized electoral fraud.
Electoral observation is an issue Nicaragua's opposition parties and their foreign supporters have always tried to manipulate in their unending demented propaganda war against the FSLN. Various national bodies will monitor the elections, but the opposition claim they are not independent. They only consider acceptable observers from organizations like IPADE or Etica y Transparencia. These well established NGOs, funded by European and North American governments, only began attacking the integrity of Nicaragua's elections in 2008 – when the FSLN began winning an overall electoral majority.
In many countries, local government elections change little in terms of national policy or institutional structures. But in Nicaragua, the Sandinista government is putting more and more emphasis on grass roots participation as a key factor in formulating national policy. The success of the government's consistent efforts to implement a model of Citizens' Power depend very much on how convincing a majority of people find that process at local government level.
Should the FSLN meet, or even beat, its target of winning 130 municipalities on November 4th this year, the Sandinista municipal authorities will be able to extend popular acceptance of Citizens' Power as a political model for Nicaragua. Doing so will render even more marginal the role and relevance of right wing political parties. The 2008 elections signalled the end of right wing dominance of national politics in Nicaragua. These 2012 local elections could well mark a similar profound shift in political power to a more truly democratic model than the one currently provided by conventional party politics.
Source: Tortilla con Sal