|Nicaragua’s municipal elections were a model of civic voter participation on polling day last November 5th. The voting process and the election results were validated by numerous institutions accompanying the elections, including a unusually numerous delegation from the Organization of American States. As expected, candidates of the United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance, led by the Sandinista Front, won the great majority of the country’s 153 municipalities with a total of 135. That number is 3 more than the party won in the municipal elections of 2012. In terms of national total votes, the Sandinista Front won 68.06%, the Liberal Constitutional Party won 16.38%, Ciudadanos por la Libertad won 9.51% and the remaining six parties between them won the remaining 6.05% of valid votes cast.
Three main points are worth noting from a more detailed look at these election results. Firstly, the opportunity cost for Nicaragua’s political opposition of fielding rival candidates among themselves was 15 municipalities they might have won by uniting around single candidacies for mayor and vice-mayor in each municipality. Secondly, the elections for councilors reflect that reality since, in the 15 municipalities they might otherwise have won, the combined opposition majorities have a majority on the relevant local municipal councils. Thirdly, the elections demonstrated categorically that claims by the Yatama indigenous people’s party that it is the sole representative of indigenous people on Nicaragua’s Carribean Coast are completely false. They lost all the municipalities they previously controlled.
These results constitute a tremendous triumph for the Sandinista Front and its political allies and also an extraordinary personal triumph for President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who have led Nicaragua’s government since January 2007, a total of almost 11 years and still retain national approval ratings of around 80%. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, international coverage of this very significant political event in the context of current overall developments in Latin America and the Caribbean has been virtually nil. In part this reflects the ideological antipathy of Western mainstream and alternative media to an avowedly socialist, anti-imperialist government and political party aligned with the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.
But at a deeper level the minimal coverage of developments in Nicaragua reflects too the enduring neocolonial mentality typical of Western opinion across the political spectrum. Nicaragua’s very successful social and economic policies, its stand on climate change and its gender policies have shown up the chronic failure of the dominant policy agenda in North America and Europe, in most of Africa, much of Asia and, too, in Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina. That very success probably explains the lack of news coverage and the prevalence, in what token coverage, there is of hopelessly false reporting of Nicaragua’s reality, of events in Central America and the Caribbean and of Latin America and the Caribbean in general.
The presence of the large OAS electoral mission and its validation of the election process and its results should finally lay to rest persistent false accusations of electoral fraud made by Nicaragua’s perennial opposition losers against the country’s electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Council. The OAS report praised the well-organized, peaceful voting process and the high level of civic participation of Nicaraguan voters, especially the fact that women predominated in officiating the voting process.Voter participation was around 52%, very similar to the country’s historic norms for municipal elections. The post election period was marred by isolated violent incidents especially on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast where extremists in the country’s opposition parties, especially Yatama and the PLC have a notorious record of provoking often murderous violence.
A closer look at the election results reveals data that contradicts the mindless routine Western media attacks on Nicaragua’s government and institutions even more than the basic data at national level. Self-evidently, one of the reasons the opposition failed to do better in these latest municipal elections is that they themselves are divided. The main opposition political strongholds mostly lie in the country’s central highlands and along its Caribbean coast. A look at the election results show that had the opposition been united they would have won another 15 municipalities on the turn out they had last November 5th. These would have been the results had the opposition united around a single candidate in those 15 municipalities:
These results would have given Nicaragua’s political opposition a total of 33 municipalities instead of the 18 they in fact won. A look at the respective support given to each political party contesting the municipal elections in each of Nicaragua’s 15 departments and two autonomous regions also gives a better context in which to judge the political opposition’s performance:
These departmental results show that in the country's two autonomous Caribbean regions the FSLN is in a minority overall. In Jinotega and Chontales, the opposition is within 5% of overtaking the FSLN. Had the opposition united in the two autonomous regions, especially in the Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region, they would have prevented the FSLN from winning various of those Regions' municipalities. Taken together with the validation of the elections by the electoral organizations accompanying them, the results confirm the integrity of the electoral process and demonstrate the falsity of claims of fraud in particular by apologists for the Yatama and PLC opposition parties. The opposition themselves clearly lost municipalities to the FSLN by failing to unite.
However, what the headline results also fail to make clear is that voters in Nicaragua’s municipal elections were also voting for local councilors. So although the opposition failed to win control of the mayoral offices in various municipalities where the opposition dominate, their councilors will have a majority on those municipal councils which should enable them to control local decision making on municipal policy. This makes opposition claims of electoral fraud even more implausible and presents them with a similar general dilemma to that facing the right wing opposition in Venezuela. Namely, if they try sabotaging their local governments, they risk losing political support, while, if they do work together with local Sandinista mayors, that may well facilitate municipal policies tending to favor the FSLN in future elections.
From the point of view of the Sandinista Front, the elections give them cause for great confidence over the remaining four years of President Ortega’s and Vice President Rosario Murillo’s current term. Their party’s candidates won convincingly in all the country’s main urban centres, including all the departmental capitals. In national elections, the rule of thumb in Nicaragua is that a political party needs to win in the capital Managua and in Leon and Matagalpa to be sure of getting elected to government. The FSLN currently have 83% support in Managua, 82% support in León and 62% support in Matagalpa. In 2018, Nicaragua will hold elections in the autonomous regions of its Caribbean Coast. The next Presidential elections are in 2021. All the signs are that the Sandinista Front will be the natural party of government in Nicaragua for another decade.