Experts: Nicaragua Electoral System Needs A “Comprehensive” Overhaul

(Alexandria, Virginia) After last week’s municipal elections in Nicaragua, Global Rule of Law and Liberty Legal Defend Fund (Fund) attorneys and fellow lawyers in Nicaragua are concerned for the safety and well-being of opposition leaders.

In a report by a team of 60 electoral experts and other Organization of American States, Electoral Observation Mission (OAS/EOM) officials are recommending “comprehensive electoral reform”  in Nicaragua. At the crux of the problem? They say what is needed is a “permanent judicial and administrative framework that gives more confidence and security to political forces.” In other words, lack of rule of law and independent institutions.

In Nicaragua since October 9, the OAS/EOM team spent several weeks meeting with government officials and civil society leaders leading up to the November 5th municipal elections. On election day OAS/EOM observers were positioned in  15 departments (states) and two autonomous regions, visiting 787 polling centers and in 393 voting centers. The preliminary OAS/EOM report is available here.

Election day appears to have been mostly uneventful, however, the OAS/EOM team reported that “once the voting ended, a series of isolated incidents of violence occurred that resulted in the deaths of five people and several injured.” Attorneys with the Global Rule of Law and Liberty Legal Defense Fund (Fund) were contacted by Nicaraguan attorneys and civil society leaders about such an incident in the state of Nueva Segovia.

The alleged incident took place in the municipality of Jalapa of Nueva Segovia. For readers who are not familiar with Nicaragua, this area is known for some of the best cigars in the world. They are produced in an area that was once a conflict zone during the Cold War. According to local leaders who contacted the Fund, authorities are using the color of law “as a weapon to intimidate residents and finish consummating fraud in the recent municipal elections.”

“We will continue to support attorneys in Nicaragua who are bravely defending wrongfully persecuted person,” Fund attorney Jason Poblete said. “Colleagues in Nicaragua have advised us that an opposition candidate has been forced to flee the country because because, in part, he was going to be thrown in jail without due process. If true, this matter is following a familiar and disturbing pattern that even includes abuse of INTERPOL systems in order to silence the opposition and, indeed, anyone who expresses different points of view from certain sectors of the ruling elite,” added Poblete.

Mr. Nelson Cortez, attorney for three of the ten civil society leaders being unlawfully detained by Nicaraguan officials, said that “[t]he judicial process has been manipulated by political interest, subtracting the accused from their natural judge (Jalapa), and transferring them to exceptional jurisdiction to Ocotal, that is illegal and unconstitutional, and is done for political reasons, which makes the accused political prisoners of the Sandinista regime.”

At the request of the persons who provided the Fund the following information about the alleged incidents in Jalapa, the report is posted anonymously to better ensure the safety of the various persons who helped prepare it. One of the opposition leaders involved in this matter was forced to flee Nicaragua because he was threatened by government officials.

According to Nicaraguan civil society leaders:

“This Wednesday, November 22nd, a judicial hearing will be held where the Public Ministry accuses thirteen citizens and supporters of the Citizens for Liberty Party (CxL), including the candidate for Mayor Ismael Gradiz who is fleeing, since he does not trust a partisan judicial system that accuses him as intellectual author of a riot even though he was not even found in the place of the protest. Of the thirteen accused, ten are detained and three are fleeing.

 

“The hearing is illegally going to be held in the municipality of Ocotal, even though it does not have jurisdiction, since the law mandates that the legal process must be conducted in the same location where the alleged crime is committed. When the residents of the community of El Limon saw that the electoral authorities were marking the blank ballots that they had not used, they jumped the gates and entered several Voting Reception Boards to avoid altering the results. It is reported that the damage caused includes the school gate, 25 meters of torn ceiling, several broken desks, and 5 classroom doors.

 

“It is important to note that the candidate for mayor of the FSLN, Ms. Liseth Balladares, was the result of the “dedazo,” imposed by the party’s leadership against the will of its own supporters, as reported in the television interview “Esta Noche” the Sandinista leaders of the municipality Juan Raul Carrasco Lumbi and Ramon Rodriguez, who support Humberto Perez, who had already been Mayor on two previous occasions.

 

“The electoral fraud starts from the fact that the magistrates are members of the FSLN party and the rest of the territorial structures, the Departmental Electoral Councils and the Municipal Electoral Councils, are controlled by the party, violating the electoral law and the constitution.

Fund attorneys and public policy professionals will continue to monitor this situation as well as support fellow lawyers in Nicaragua who are defending persons politically targeted by the FSLN. The Fund has been working on uncovering abuses of rule of law and electoral systems in places such as Nicaragua, particularly the matter of Roberto Bendaña-McEwan.  Roberto was singled out by senior FSLN officials, including prosecutors and judges, for alleged civil and criminal actions that he was not a party to. His true “crime”? Demanding free and transparent elections. Learn more about this matter here.

In related news, a bill is winding its way through the U.S. Congress that will help Nicaraguan opposition and civil society leaders hold FSLN leaders accountable: The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017. Among other things, the NICA Act directs the President to instruct the U.S. Executive Director at international financial institution (IFIs) to use U.S. influence to oppose any loan for the government of Nicaragua’s benefit if various conditions are not met to help advance rule of law and curb human rights abuses, among other conditions. You can learn more about the NICA Act and related measures here.

 

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