Former dissidents say last-minute challenges to national assembly election don’t worry them, because they feared he would pass time in office
A revolt against the Ortega regime in Nicaragua, championed by opposition leader and Nobel peace prize nominee Leopoldo López, is crumbling in its infancy, as exiles and dissidents now say their fears about the election result have largely come true.
National elections on 4 April were marred by violence and intimidation, those who witnessed events said, but with opponents unable to mount a sustained challenge to the Ortega regime, their best hope is the ongoing political crisis as protests rage against the rightwing Sandinista Front’s election victory in a riding-by-riding count.
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In this regard, the opposition are largely trying to avoid the type of bad blood that sabotaged June’s disputed legislative elections, which threw the country into chaos and presented Nicaragua with its first female president.
“There is a profound political conflict between the right and the left in Nicaragua, but people don’t want to talk about that because it could lead to a new wave of violence,” said López, the co-founder of the Civic Alliance, an umbrella group of opposition groups.
“I will not relax because I’m not even sure a conclusive result will be available from the national assembly,” he said. “I hope it will be done in a fair way because these people will be working in their blood … I want them to overcome the bitterness of the past and move forward.”
The coalition did not vote in December to recognise the official results of a second round of elections, in which the ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN) won by a comfortable margin in the national assembly, giving Ortega a constitutionally guaranteed fifth term in office.
Sandinista opposition leader Manuel Rosales and National Assembly presidential candidate Enrique Capriles Alvarez. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Many people, especially in rural Nicaragua, have long expressed their contempt for the Sandinistas who overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979 only to see the government turned into a bastion of corruption, murder and pillage.
Three weeks of violence at the end of last year killed more than 100 people and prompted the US to impose sanctions on senior government members. The situation has worsened as loyalist paramilitaries have intimidated small, peaceful protests.
“I want to be optimistic, but we’re only 50% sure the first round will be transparent and clear,” said Elsa Zepeda, a 70-year-old seamstress, adding that she had felt afraid to go out in recent days, to call for more protests or even to risk her own life by going to vote for opposition candidates.
López, who finished a close third in the March vote, and other opposition figures have warned the vote won’t be credible – and he has urged Roman Catholic bishops to insist on free and fair elections.
There is considerable panic in the leaderships of the FSLN and the Sandinista Renovation Movement, the second largest opposition party, whose members have staged boycotts of electoral council meetings since the first round of voting.
“That cannot happen in a process like this,” said Juan Alberto Iniguez, the director of the Central American Parliament. “The situation has to be respected, and at the same time, the opposition has to show that they are a legitimate government.”
The national elections council, made up mostly of Sandinista party members, held a last-minute press conference on Sunday to reject opposition claims of electoral fraud, and said it would soon begin the count that is still not expected to be finished for several weeks.