By Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
Daniel Ortega just won a landslide victory to be reelected president of the Republic of Nicaragua.The elections have been wrought with controversy. Human rights groups, opposition parties and the international community doubt the authenticity and transparency of the elections and many citizens feel the elections where robbed by Ortega. Nobody is surprised.
It seemed clear, even impossible that Daniel Ortega would lose re-election. The Sandinista Party, FSLN, are by far the most powerful political party in Nicaragua. A very fragmented opposition offered voters little choice than to ‘continue the revolution’ with Daniel. Cause for alarm has been the amount of power consolidated by the Sandinistas after Sundays elections. The FSLN won 13 parliament seats while the strongest opposition party, PLI, only earned 6 seats. The PLC gained 1 seat and the ALN and APRE got nothing. Check out the full election results in the La Prensa.
So, how has the FSLN consolidated so much power under Daniel?
Daniel Ortega is the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party and a hero of the Sandinista revolution against the Samoza dictatorship. He was president starting in 1976 and during a fierce and violent civil war with the Contras. In 1989 he was voted out of office. After 17 years he was finally voted back into office in 2006 for a 5 year term. In 2008 there were widespread allegations of fraud in local and mayoral elections and the FSLN gained in power and control of the government. In October 2009 the Sandinista controlled Supreme Court removed constitutional obstacles preventing Daniel’s reelection. Last Sunday he was reelected for his 3rd term as President of Nicaragua.
Daniel Ortega has transformed the Sandinista Party’s public image. He has tried to appeal to all Nicaraguans by changing his party symbolism, rhetoric, colors and ideology.
The sinister red and black bands of the Sandinistas have been replaced by swirling suns, peace signs, and a call for love and Christianity. Under the direction of Daniel’s wife, Rosario Murillo, the FSLN has orchestrated a campaign of positive messages invoking national pride, Christianity, solidarity and citizen power. Peace signs, hearts, the number 2 and other symbols have come to represent ‘Danielismo‘.
Daniel has adopted Pink as the color of his administration. He has painted the whole country pink. Massive pink billboards with Daniel’s face stare out all over the country, pink posters are on every flag pole, pink shirts are worn by whole offices of government employees. Even government buildings are painted in Daniels colors. Daniel has blurred the lines between himself, the FSLN political party and the government. This is represented visually by his use of government buildings, spaces and personnel for shameless self promotion. It is impossible to leave the house without being reminded who is in power and who is working towards the benefit of the Nicaraguan people.
Changing the branding and party ideology has allowed the FSLN to appeal to a wider audience and attempt to unify Nicaragua under one vision for the future.The Sandinistas have distanced themselves from Marxist revolutionary ideals and have been intent on messages of stability, solidarity, capitalism and Christianity.
To capture the Christian vote Daniel has distanced himself from his Marxist past, played up his own religious practices and most importantly, made amends with Cardinal Obondo y Bravo. Cardinal Obono y Bravo was a fierce enemy and opposition leader to the Sandinistas who famously called them ’Godless Communist Sandinistas’. In May 2009 Daniel complied the Cardinal’s wishes and made abortion illegal. The sullen Cardinal is present on numerous campaign materials and accompanied the President during his victory speech. Amends with the Cardinal is just one example of how Daniel has changed the ideology and allegiances of the FSLN.
In addition to forging new relationships with the religious community Daniel has been courting the country’s business elite. Claims are widespread that he has only been fattening the pockets of his supporters. Never the less he has supported economic expansion and capitalistic policies. During his last term Nicaragua experienced a period of stability that was good for big business. The economy is growing and foreign investment has been heavily encouraged. Socialism is still in his rhetoric to keep his voting base but he is very pro business and capitalistic minded. This is the first time big business has not voted against Ortega. Check out this article about Daniel Ortega relationship with the economic elite.
Daniel has changed ideology to appeal to the masses, much at the cost to his parties core ideals. However, the success of ‘Danielismo’ has more than made up for dissent from his own party. Playing down the FSLN’s past ideologies has made joining the party much more palatable for the liberal and independent voters.
Social Programs and Councils of Citizen Power
Daniel has been pouring money into social programs to alleviate the conditions of Poverty. Daniel has been hugely popular in the country for his social programs and infrastructure projects.The anti-poverty programs range from micro-loans to women entrepreneurs, subsidized food programs, and public infrastructure projects. In 2008 Daniel established neighborhood committees, Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) to administer anti-poverty programs and projects at the local level. Daniel claims the committees are designed to give a direct voice to the citizens of Nicaragua. The CPCs control what is done in their communities and who is benefited. The only problem is that these committees are largely controlled by the Sandinista party. The councils deny showing favoritism in who receives program benefits but the unspoken sentiment is that if you show support for the FSLN you will be rewarded.The CPCs have become defacto arms of the government and campaign groups for the FSLN party. CPCs have no doubt contributed to Daniel’s strangle hold on Nicaragua.
The social programs have made him immensely popular with the Nicaraguan people, and in many cases good work is being done. The social programs have encouraged many liberals and independents to change their political views. The worry here is that many people have voted for the FSLN or shown their support of the party to increase their chances of being program beneficiaries. Purchasing and coercing this support is worrying especially when the majority of money supporting these programs is coming from Venezuela. Many social programs in Nicaragua have been funded by Daniel’s close friend Hugo Chavez. This extra money controlled by Daniel and outside the normal government budget has allowed Daniel to increase the popularity of his administration without being limited by budget or parliament. To learn more about CPCs read this article on The New York Times Blog. Whether through coercion or popular support, Daniel’s social programs have made him immensely popular with the country’s poor.
Political Activism and Sandinista Youth
The FSLN party are extremely politically active. Before the elections huge rallies and festivals organized by Daniel were held around the country. Local FSLN groups have organized marches, demonstrations and rallies for months before the elections and street celebrations this whole week following their win at the polls last Sunday. Campaign songs play on the radio, cars and taxis wave party flags, businesses have party pamphlets and posters on proud display. The overwhelming support for FSLN both publicly and privately make it seem like they are expressing the will of all Nicaraguans. You would be hard pressed to find anybody wearing a PLI, or other opposition party T-shirt, or driving a car with opposition slogans.
The strong voice of support for the FSLN is the only voice. However, The lack of an opposition voice does not mean that one doesn’t exist. The silent opposition feel unwelcome and unable to express their views.The FSLN has effectively crowded them out and made them feel threatened. Opposition support has been relegated to waiving signs out of buses and parading in small towns largely away from the public eye and large government presence. The only groups demonstrating in Managua are the FSLN because they are the only group allowed to demonstrate. The police have turned a blind eye and even protected FSLN street demonstrations while they have shut down demonstrators of opposition parties.
The Sandinista Youth are an especially dedicated, powerful and threatening group. Part peer pressure, part nationalistic identity, and part support for Daniel’s policies, the ‘Joventud’ is mostly just fun. The Sandinista Youth have a good time at their government funded street parties blasting music and catchy campaign songs, chanting slogans in unison and hanging out in stylish campaign T-shirts. Many citizens and opposition party supporters feel threatened by the large often unruly groups of Sandinista Youth members that parade the streets, parks and university campuses around the country. Check out this account of Sandinista Youth intimidation of election protestors on Nicaragua Dispatch. The Support for the FSLN dressed in the same T-shirts all chanting in unison are quite the powerful force. They know the power they hold. A grinning group of celebrating Sandinista youth summed it up well, ‘He won, or he robbed it, the important thing is we won!’ Ortega and his supporters like having free reign of the country and they plan on keeping it that way.
Daniel Ortega has a put a strangle hold on Nicaragua, its politics, economy, and beliefs of the people. Is democracy dead in Nicaragua? Or has the true will of the people been realized?