Monday, March 21, 2011

The Odd Couple is Back in Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega has now officially registered to run for another term. He will be joined on the Sandinista ticket by former army chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens. Ortega leads all candidates with 36% support and is followed by former President Arnoldo Aleman with 23% and radio station magnate Fabio Gadea with 17%. It looks like Ortega's share of the vote will once again end up where it always does and if the opposition splits the remaining vote, Ortega might possibly win a first round victory. As a  result, Andres Oppenheimer says that that Nicaragua is "headed for one man rule once again."

Aleman and Francisco Aguirre Sacasa were recently selected to lead the binomial ticket supported by a coalition of the Liberal Constitucionalista, Conservador and Indígena Multiétnico parties. Aleman was released after serving two years of a twenty-year sentence after appealing his corruption charges.

Maybe Gadea or another challenger can build momentum between now and November, but in a more likely contest between Aleman and Ortega, wouldn't you have to go with Ortega?

Now on to Oppenheimer's annoying style. First he pulls a Mary Anastasia O'Grady and starts his post with
Venezuelan-backed President Daniel Ortega has only 36 percent of the vote in the polls, and is facing growing accusations of abuse of power and corruption. But in a three-day visit here, I didn’t find anybody who doubts that he will easily win the Nov. 6 elections.
The WSJ's O'Grady usually threw in Chavez where ever possible in stories that were unrelated to Venezuela. Just look at her most recent story - Why Obama Went to Brazil: There's a chance to build a new foreign policy alliance that disdains dictators like Hugo Chávez. After reading it, I'm not sure how she keeps a job with the prestigious WSJ.

Can't it ever just be about Nicaragua (or Brazil)? There are enough reasons to be critical of Ortega that you do not have to try to scare readers by saying that Venezuela and Chavez back Ortega.

Second, yes it's problematic that Ortega can win the presidency in the first round even if he only captures 35% of the vote (with a 5% margin separating him from the second place finisher). I would prefer the threshold at 45% (with a 10%) margin or a pure majority runoff myself. But some presidential systems do utilize electoral rules that don't pass the smell test. We don't even require our president to win a plurality of the vote. Now, how democratic is that?

Instead, you could write something to the effect that "unlike other Latin American electoral systems that virtually ensure a runoff between the top two candidates, the Nicaraguan system is designed to make a first round victory much more likely."

Oppenheimer's not the only one leery of another Ortega term. Both ex-militaries and the Church have recently spoken out against his likely victory. Ortgea doesn't seem very good for democracy, but as the Miami Herald even mentions, the economy is growing better than the Central American average and poverty seem to be declining.

In addition, Nicaragua has so far been able to keep the maras at bay and is a country much safer than neighboring Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. While imperfect, there's not the level of repression directed against social movements as there is in Guatemala and Honduras. I'd love for Ortega and the remaining FSLN to more fully develop the country's democratic political system obviously, but it's a pretty complicated country that requires a little nuance to understand. And nuance is not something our media is known for here in the US.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an illuminating post-- especially the review of the actual conditions on the ground, which tend to be ignored in ideologically driven good/bad arguments.

    But I also would add another thing about Oppenheimer's opening sentence, which is that the rhetoric of saying Ortega "has only 36% support" implies that this is low; where what you point out in the beginning of the piece is that it is the highest that any candidate in the race is polling. It is low in an absolute sense, but it means he is the front-runner in a highly split field. Think of the difference it would make if Oppenheimer had written "Although front-runner Daniel Ortega only has 36% support, that would be enough for him to emerge the winner under Nicaraguan law?". That fact-- that he is the front runner-- isn't obvious from the original opening volley, with its gratuitous play to knee jerk reactions to Chavez.