The Rise of Daniel Ortega and His Danger to Democracy
Daniel Ortega triumphed his third consecutive presidential term in November 2016 with a staggering 72.1% of the vote. Yet, amongst this celebration, there lies an aurora of fear for the future of democracy within this country. Freedom House has diminished the freedom score of Nicaragua from Partly Free to Not Free in recent years due to the rise of Ortega’s controlling regime. Not only has his rule advanced the role of the president within the executive branch but it has also decreased the checks placed on his power within recent years. The Sandinista National Liberation Front’s Control has placed extreme limits on the extent of democracy within the country by decreasing mutual toleration– a key aspect of a democratic state according to Levitsky and Ziblatt — and allowing unlimited presidential terms.
The Dangers of Endless Terms.
January 28, 2014 marked a dramatic change in the future of the fledgling democracy that existed within Nicaragua. The newly founded hegemonic authoritarian regime under Ortega–as Diamond would define it– cast a vote that would allow any president unlimited terms. Furthermore, they disbarred the previous necessity to achieve 35 % of the popular vote to win, instead, allowing the candidate with the most votes to win the election. Similar to the constitutional changes that took place in Venezuela recently, the ruling party in Nicaragua dominated the constitutional assembly, thus leading to a form of authoritarian rule. Ortega and his party have dominated the political realm even disallowing certain candidates from running such as the barring of his main opposition, Eduardo Montealegre. The anti-pluralistic tendencies of this government are beginning to erode away at democracy in Nicaragua. When a lack of considerations of the other forms of political thought arise, there tends to be less considerations for the populace as a whole. As Schumpeter points out a common good and therefore a common will are hard to define due to their subjectiveness, he states that a democracy is intended to a be a struggle for power via elections. Dahl continues with this argument saying that the allowing of political adversaries is a key component of any democracy. Yet, because of the lack of a strong opposition party within the Nicaraguan government, Ortega is able to violate the basic premises of democracy. There is no struggle for power nor is there strong political adversaries. In turn, his power within the government grows due to the strengthen of his party and their ideals at the loss of other political thoughts.
Civic Unrest in Nicaragua and How Ortega still wins elections
These circumstances have lead to civic unrest in the country of Nicaragua with recent anti government protests lending to the deaths of 325 citizens and many more injuries. These forms of civic unrest are not surprising due to the recent economic crisis in Nicaragua and the lack of political considerations to people in opposition to Ortega’s party. However, large questions remain over how Ortega managed to receive 72.1% of the vote in 2016. Wilfred Navarro revealed some of the tactics that Ortega used to harness more power such as: mandatory obligations of support to FSLN by public employees and promoting FLSN propaganda via government funds. Major injustices such as these have allowed his regime to dominant through coercion. Essentially, Ortega is able to consciously impact the people’s vote though these forced obligations to his party. In turn, his party is able to harness standard legitimacy by showing that he is elected by the people. However, does this align with Dahl’s idea of democracies having free and fair elections? In many cases, it does not as some people have no other choice than to vote for him. If they chose not to, there are repercussions to their own lives, thus many would rather bear a political cost to themselves than a personal cost. Furthermore, the use of propaganda can be used as a form of subconscious brainwashing. State sponsored media can engrain certain images into the minds of the people in Nicaragua in order to project a form of legitimacy for Ortega’s party. One simple example of this propaganda in Nicaragua is shown through the placement of Ortega’s party symbols on government institutions. What causes concern here is that the use of propaganda also limits the extent to which a rival coalition or party can harness support. In Nicaragua, the ruling party can use state funds to campaign and make propaganda while the opposition is left with less resources to make present their platform. We see a similar pattern in American politics where incumbents tend to win elections at high rates. In turn, democracy is hurt because there’s an uneven playing field for candidates.
Future for Democracy in Nicaragua
Democracy has been on decline throughout the world ever since the large rise of democratic sentiment during the post cold war period. Ortega is another example of this form of democratic erosion in many Latin American countries. His party was able to slowly erode at the constitutional institutions that allowed for democracy to peacefully exist within their country. Today, the people are a vital instrument of the continuation of democracy in this country or democracies possible bow to authoritarian rule. Yet, one thing is understood, Ortega and other authoritarian leaders have and will do anything to remain dominant within their country. This may take the form of direct coercion that is forced on the citizens or even subconscious brainwashing in order to upkeep their regime’s supposed legitimacy. 2019. Freedom in the World 2019. Freedom House.
 Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. How Democracies Die. New York: Crown. Chapter 1.
 Diamond, Larry. 2002. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy 13(2): pp. 21-35.
 2014. Nicaragua backs unlimited presidential terms. The Guardian.
 Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers. Chapter 21 and pages 269-273 and 282-283 from Chapter 22.
 Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press. Chapter 1.
 Robles, Frances. 2019. Nicaraguan Supreme Court Justice Slams His Former Ally, President Ortega. The New York Times.
Photo by: Cancillería Ecuador. A Visible-Invisible Dictator? Creative Commons Zero License