MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguans without sufficient official identification arrived at the Foreign Ministry Thursday afternoon to produce a passport in order to vote in Nicaragua’s Sunday elections. The foreign ministry office was crowded, with some voters attempting to line up as early as 8 a.m.
“This is outrageous,” one man said. “Our papers were with the electoral council when they opened and they didn’t let us come in the first place.”
Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Francisco Aguirre — due in Washington on Saturday for high-level discussions — said no person or vehicle was permitted to pass through the foreigners’ entrance. The authorities would review all vote-by-mail applications and registration materials from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 13, he said. The voting operation to be launched late Friday and continued through early Saturday would rely on 120,000 polling stations, he said.
“There is no national crisis,” he said. “We have a national problem, which is how we have been governed for 26 years.”
Thousands of Nicaraguans are sitting at home, fearing they might be arrested by the Sandinista-controlled judiciary system. Hundreds of dissidents, some who have been jailed or detained for months, have fled the country with emigration accords awaiting. In one case, Nicaraguan authorities apparently threatened with jail the judge who allowed the deportation of a vocal human rights activist.
Because of the “national crisis,” a large number of foreign media are not able to get into the country for the election, Aguirre said.
“We are going to win Sunday, though it will be a very difficult vote,” he said. “Everyone who works on the ground can feel that this [election] is very competitive, but the majority of the people are very happy. They think there are a lot of benefits. People complain about the cost of staying here. In other countries, inflation is 20 to 25 percent. In our country it is four to five percent.”
Aguirre said whatever the outcome, that Nicaragua has matured politically.
“There are groups here that are extremely hostile, yet they cannot make a difference in the polls,” he said. “The Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church are very important for the people and are neutral in this election. The leftists all want to impose their own candidate, while it is well documented that since 1994 there was only one political movement that was able to make a difference in the polls. That is the Sandinista Front.”
Earlier this week, while testimony was underway in front of a local tribunal about “disobedience, constitutional and political violation” committed by the Sandinista Front’s electoral council earlier this year, Nicaraguan police detained seven opposition members outside the gathering. The following day, a rally scheduled for Oct. 2 was postponed to Tuesday, and on Tuesday, security agents arrested three more political figures in that situation.
“It is obvious that the police are spying on all those who question or organize demonstrations,” said Ana Fatima Dagnino, an anti-Sandinista council member in Tibás city who was arrested. “My job is to clarify everything. If a demonstration takes place, they arrest all the participants. They’ll have to arrest me.”
Nicaragua, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary of independence from Spain, has a polarizing history for Nicaraguans. The Sandinista Front, founded in 1979 by Daniel Ortega, held power for five years before losing the 1990 presidential election to Violeta Chamorro, a centrist party member who became the country’s first lady under Ortega. Both also had been re-elected.
There were fears at the time of widespread repression of the opposition, especially Nicaragua’s large number of poor. The presidential term was extended in 2000 to allow Ortega to seek reelection. But a unity coalition under former Army Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle won the 2000 elections, and the rival Sandinista Front was marginalized.
Ortega, 72, vowed to “rebuild the Sandinista Front,” but the nation’s financial meltdown forced him to pivot rightward. In 2006, he formed a right-wing, nationalist party with business and military leaders and associates, much to the chagrin of the Sandinista Front.
On Wednesday, as Ortega and the Sandinista Front reiterated a promise to deliver the electoral majority for their candidate, Fabio Gadea, Ortega floated the idea of forming a leftist alliance with the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Constitutional Party, the political affiliates of the two parties that were long dominant.