Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 14:00:34 -0600
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Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
Right wing tries to rig Nicaraguan elections
By Stephen Marks, Green Left Weekly, #252, 20 October 1996
MANAGUA - Nicaragua's recent elections have been marred by scandal, chaos and accusations of fraud which have called into question the apparent victory, 49% to 38%, of the right-wing candidate, Arnoldo Aleman, over Sandinista, Daniel Ortega.
The October 20 elections were characterised by a massive turnout of voters who had to brave long queues and a new voting system. The system was supposed to be fraud proof. After the polls were closed, and before proceeding to the count, the officials in each polling station were to reconcile the unused and used ballot papers. Each step was to be documented and counter-signed by the staff representing the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and the party scrutineers. When the final figures were ready, the tally sheet figures were to be sent to the local CSE via telegram, fax or phone, so that the overall results could be compiled. The original documents, plus ballots, both used and unused, were then to be taken to the local CSE for verification.
The weakest link in this chain is the fact that under new provisions introduced this year, key officials of the CSE are nominated by the political parties. Aleman's Liberal Alliance (AL) ended up with the lion's share of these positions. On August 9, the FSLN protested that while it was granted the CSE presidencies in the departments of Leon, Rio San Juan and the Southern Autonomous Region of the Atlantic Coast, these areas represented only 14% of the electorate.
The tiny Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) had Masaya, Carazo and Granada, or 14% of the electorate. The AL had CSE presidencies which represented 42% of the electorate; Managua, Jinotega and Matagalpa. These are precisely the regions which have seen the greatest chaos and most complaints of fraud.
The main mechanism of the fraud was the doctoring of the "telegrams" sent to the CSE. When the first "provisional" results, based on some 3% of the total vote, put him in the lead, Aleman was ready to act. Within a short time he had claimed victory and the right-wing media, as if on cue, were hailing him as the "President Elect".
At this early stage the FSLN had already detected discrepancies between the results and the information provided by its polling scrutineers. Ortega, who had not hesitated to recognise the victory of Violeta Chamorro in 1990, refused to acknowledge the results and urged the CSE to proceed to use the tally sheets rather than telegrams to calculate the vote. This, however, did not happen for some days. The CSE ignored the FSLN's objections and continued to release "provisional" figures which increased Aleman's lead. The right-wing media and hangers-on, urged on by the Catholic hierarchy's Cardenal Obando y Bravo, trumpeted victory.
However, the vote riggers made the mistake of stealing votes from fellow right wingers, whose complaints added credibility to those of the FSLN. On October 21, the representatives of 16 political parties in Matagalpa released a joint statement in which they denounced that the electoral process was a "crude manipulation and fraud". The parties which signed the letter included the Conservative Party, National Project (Pronal), UNO-96, MRS, Communist Party and the FSLN. It had by now become clearer that the fraud also involved the destruction of ballots, alteration of tally sheets and harassment of scrutineers. In some areas, the votes of candidates, who had voted for themselves, did not even appear in the telegrams.
Dozens of ballot boxes in which the majority of votes were cast for the FSLN were stolen and later turned up in the houses of CSE officials linked to, or apparently bribed by, the AL. The president of the Matagalpa CSE was found with 30,000 ballot papers in his house and, according to the "telegrams", one AL candidate appeared to be winning the same neighbourhood which he had been chased out of just a few weeks before.
On October 22, eight of the presidential candidates, including such prominent politicians as former president of the National Assembly, Alfredo Cesar, and former vice-president Virgilio Godoy, also demanded that the count take place on the basis of the tally sheets. The Pronal leader, Antonio Lacayo, also supported a count based on the official tally sheets, while the "provisional" third place-getter, Guillermo Osorno of the Christian Path Party (with 4% of the vote), called for the elections to be annulled.
Even Pedro Solorzano, a leading right-wing contender for the mayor of Managua, reversed his acceptance of defeat when it became clear that the revision of the tally sheets indicated irregularities. The FSLN's Carlos Guadamuz is also still in the race, despite premature claims of victory by the Aleman Liberals.
One of the most scandalous incidents occurred when thousands of exhausted polling booth workers, who had been working all night, arrived at the CSE offices the morning after the elections to hand in their tally sheets and ballot papers. The crowd was attacked by riot police in a supposed attempt to maintain order. In the resulting confusion, the ballot boxes and sacks were thrown onto the streets. Tally sheets, and even ballot papers, were ruined and scattered by the wind.
In 1990, the FSLN government supported the organisation of elections which were held under the extremely difficult conditions of blockade and war. An FSLN statement on the elections points out that "this extraordinary effort culminated in an event unparalleled in history, a political movement that came to power by means of arms, handed over political power to the winners after its defeat at the ballot box".
The international media may have come and gone from Nicaragua with the impression that Aleman is the new president of Nicaragua. However, this is by no means certain. If the recount brings Aleman's percentage down to below 45%, a run-off will take place between him and Ortega. The final counting may take a week, and a national ban on demonstrations has been extended until then. A ban also exists on the carrying of firearms. The situation in Nicaragua remains calm, but tense.
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