By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The polls open today in Nicaragua as voters elect municipal leaders in 146 townships throughout Nicaragua, Central America’s poorest country with a population of 5.8 million, annual per capita income of $2,800 and an underemployment rate of 46.7 percent. Political analysts have described the municipal elections as a key indicator of current President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government’s approval ratings. According to Managua polling firm M&R, Ortega’s approval rating is less than 20 percent with nearly two-thirds viewing him as authoritarian.
All eyes this year are on the mayoral elections in the capital of Managua, a battle between Hall of Fame boxer Alexis Arguello and ex-finance minister Eduardo Montealegre. Arguello, viewed as the “best chance to bolster the leftist Sandinista party of ex-revolutionary and current President Daniel Ortega,” was the city’s deputy mayor between 2005 and 2007. Arguello stated last month that “[t]he Sandinistas are the only party that understands the needs of the country…We welcome anyone who puts away the bitterness, hate and personal interests to work for the community.” Montealegre, running for Managua mayor on behalf of the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party, lost the 2006 presidential race to Ortega.
The campaign trail has been marred by violent protests between Sandinista supporters and opposition parties. The conflicts have been exacerbated by Ortega barring opposition parties – the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative Party – from supporting candidates, and allegations that the Sandinista party has rigged the vote and refused to allow international observers. Opposition leaders have criticized the Ortega government for failing to invite observers from the Organization of American States and the local group Ethics and Transparency, a group that has monitored past elections. Ortega has accused the U.S. of stirring up dissent to undermine his party.
Sandinistas currently run 87 of the 153 cities and are favored to win re-election today in most of them. “Sandinista supporters will show up at the polls because they are proud of their party…But Ortega’s unpopularity is a big issue, and this could have an impact,” said Managua political analyst, Carlos Tunnermann. Vice President of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter, stated: “Ortega is not the same revolutionary he was…Even his core supporters may find it hard to vote Sandinista if the money runs out.”
Results of the final vote are expected to be released on Monday.
For more information, please see:
The Associated Press – Nicaraguan Municipal Vote Seen as Test for Ortega – 9 November 2008
Bloomberg – Nicaragua’s Ortega Befriends Boxers, Contras as Support Wanes – 9 November 2008
San Francisco Chronicle – Ex-Boxer Runs for Mayor in Nicaragua Capital – 9 November 2008