By Joel D. Hirst
Almost a week has passed since the November 6th Presidential and Congressional elections in Nicaragua – and the dust has by no means settled. While what really happened on Election Day is still unknown, what is emerging is a picture of massive electoral fraud. In a telling sign, the international community has been slow to recognize the Nicaraguan electoral results.
The US State Department called into question the transparency of the results, stating through deputy spokesperson Mark Toner that, “All of these actions, and a lack of full accounting of ballots cast, reduce our confidence in the outcome of the elections.” The Carter Center noted that it was, “troubled by the erosion of democratic institutions.”
The European Union (EU) and Organization of American States (OAS) election observers called the elections “opaque” and “worrisome” respectively. Notoriously duplicitous OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza first stated, “in Nicaragua yesterday, democracy and peace took a step forward,” but quickly backed away from this statement after realizing the true extent of the problem.
This is not a surprise. Domestic electoral observers Hagamos Democracia and Etica y Transparencia have both rejected the electoral results – and Opposition candidate Fabio Gadea has said that the opposition will not recognize the results.
The electoral observer organization IPADE outlined in their preliminary report some of the challenges. According to IPADE, in 34% of the voting centers the Voter Reception Teams (JVR – part of the citizen verification process as part of electoral law) did not have access to the final results at their voting centers; 13% could not arrive at their voting centers because of issues such as violence or interference; 20% of voting centers did not have observers from the opposition party alliance; lack of accreditation of observers (national and international); in 20 municipalities voters were systematically intimidated by police and pro-government forces; and finally a general lack of control on the voting and vote counting process.
All of this has caused instability; leading to up to six deaths in post-election violence, with many more injured. The government in the person of Rosario Murillo – wife of President Daniel Ortega – has called on all citizens to respect the “democratic result” and work “in harmony” to promote a “positive image” of the country.
Elections are the mechanisms within constitutional, representative democracy by which the citizens can periodically ratify “the consent of the governed.” Not all citizens are ever pleased by any given election. For this reason, the independence of the electoral council, and the presence of the checks such as international and domestic observers, audits of the electoral registry, quick counts and ballot recounts are so important to confirm that the election results followed the constitution, the rule of law and the will of the majority. As demonstrated in this case – and the information which is still to come out as to the extent of the electoral fraud in Nicaragua – it is clear that this electoral event did not certify the “consent of all the governed.” For this reason, it should be re-done -- this time respecting the established rules of democratic legitimacy.Joel D. Hirst is a Principal at the Cordoba Group International. A former Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), he was USAID Acting Country Representative in Venezuela from 2004 to 2008. He tweets at www.twitter.com/joelhirst and www.twitter.com/cordobagroupint
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