Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, joined Al Jazeera for an interview on the current political conditions in Nicaragua with the approaching presidential elections set for November 7. This interview examined the role of the opposition in upcoming elections as well as the consequences for the Nicaraguan people if Ortega remains in power for a fourth consecutive term.
Comments from Michael Shifter:
Question (Q): Oscar Sobalvarro [presidential candidate of Citizens Alliance for Liberty] has been able to register. Perhaps he is a surprise candidate given his background. Why do you think that this has been allowed to happen?
Answer (A): I think that Ortega is very shrewd. He is trying to make sure that some candidates do register to give him some legitimacy before the international community, which has condemned him for these detentions and disappearances. The main presidential candidates have either been arrested or are in exile. It’s not surprising that there are a few candidates who will register with the blessing of the Ortega regime precisely to make the case that this is a fair and free election. But I think the elections don’t meet minimal standards, and it is unlikely to convince many people.
Q: Was there ever an expectation amongst Nicaraguans that this would be a free and fair election?
A: I think there was a hope that there would be some negotiation and dialogue. At one point, Ortega did seem to be open to that and showed some flexibility. But then he realized that he wanted to eliminate any potential challenge to his absolute power, and he began to crackdown in a very systematic way – not only to opposition candidates, but also to some members of the business community and his former ambassador, Arturo Cruz. This was to send a very clear message that Ortega was in total control and that he would not permit any potential competition in this election.
Q: What do you think the tactic of the opposition is likely to be? In terms of getting people out to vote, do you think it’s better to encourage people to vote or to effectively disregard the elections and not take part?
A: I think it’s a tough problem for the opposition. Most of them – including those associated and identified with those who have been disappeared and exiled – will reject this election completely and boycott the election simply because there are not credible conditions to have a free and fair vote. Hopefully that will increase the pressure on the Ortega dictatorship. It’s a tough problem that other countries have faced before. On one hand, you want to participate. On the other hand, if there are not minimal conditions, the election is a sham. Most of the opposition will boycott and reject this election entirely.
Q: If that does happen and the election goes in favor of Ortega, what do you think life is going to be like in Nicaragua when he goes in for a fourth term?
A: I think Ortega will continue to exercise repression in Nicaragua and try to keep the economy going. However, he is losing a lot of Nicaraguans. An important part of this crisis is that many Nicaraguans are not just leaving for its neighbor, Costa Rica, but also heading north to the United States and crossing the border. Ortega is prepared to lose a significant share of his population and repress the remaining Nicaraguans to perpetuate his power and that of his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. There have been sanctions applied recently by the European Union and the United States that have targeted him, his wife, and other officials. But Ortega seems undeterred and believes in his mind that he can weather this storm and go out fighting until the end.