MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Leading Nicaraguan opposition figure Juan Sebastián Chamorro expressed hope Friday that the opposition will be able to win some reforms to make the country’s November 2021 elections fairer.
Chamorro, a leader of the Alianza Civica group, said he would like to “be able to force seven electoral reforms from the regime of President Daniel Ortega,” who has been in power since 2007.
“If not, it will be an illegitimate process and people won’t vote,” Chamorro said. “The present conditions are very tough, and I think it will be hard to participate” in the vote unless there are changes.
One key change would be to raise the minimum percentage of votes needed to win the presidency outright and avoid a runoff. Current rules state the winner has to get at least 35%, which has helped Ortega win twice.
The Nicaraguan government has scheduled elections for Nov. 7, 2021, and despite term limits — which Ortega has already exceeded — the 75-year-old leader is expected to run again.
Ortega initially led Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 following the Sandinista revolution that ousted the Somoza dictatorship, but he lost the presidential election in 1990. He returned to the presidency in 2007 after three failed election attempts, and he won re-election in 2011. He then sidestepped term limits to get himself re-elected in 2016, and packed courts and government agencies with allies. His Sandinista party controls the courts and the legislature.
At least 325 people were killed in anti-government protests in 2018, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Starting in April 2018, Nicaragua’s economy was devastated by nearly five months of unrest initially sparked by cuts to social security benefits but which quickly evolved into calls for Ortega to step down and allow early elections.
Nicaragua’s two main opposition groups announced earlier this year that they will form a coalition to compete in the 2021 race. Neither the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy nor the Blue and White National Unity movement are among Nicaragua’s political parties. Both formed after civil unrest exploded in April 2018.
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control has announced sanctions against “corrupt financial operations and Ortega regime supporters.” The move blocks the U.S. assets of the officials and prohibits U.S. citizens from dealing with them. The U.S. government says it is pressing Ortega to hold free and fair elections and respect basic rights.
So far, about two dozen people close to Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have been sanctioned, including Murillo herself and three of her children with Ortega.
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