Nancy Bermeo states that “we now face forms of democratic backsliding that are legitimated through the very institutions that democracy promoters have prioritized: national elections, voting majorities in legislatures and courts, and the “rule” of the laws that majorities produce.” Daniel Ortega, under the Sandinista National Liberation Front was elected president of Nicaragua in 1985-1990. He was re-elected in 2007 and very soon after his second election, Nicaragua began to experience democratic backsliding. Some examples of democratic backsliding that Nicaragua is experiencing is consolidating power, manipulating elections, and control over public institutions.
The first example of democratic backsliding in Nicaragua is when Ortega, under his own party’s control, began to consolidate some branches of government. This allows for the first checks and balances of a democracy to be thrown off course. In 2014, constitutional amendments were changed by the National Assembly to allow Ortega to win for his third consecutive term for the 2016 elections. During campaigns for the 2016 election term, Ortega’s number one competitor, Eduardo Montealegre, was expelled from running by the Supreme Court. Montealegre was running under the Independent Liberation Party (PLI). The replacement candidate for the Independent Liberation Party was an Ortega ally. The manipulation of elections, not done directly by Ortega and his allies, shows the backsliding of democracy through an unfair and not fully competitive election. “The manipulation of elections can include tampering with media access, keeping opposition candidates off the ballot, changing electoral rules to favor incumbent; however, all done in such a way that the elections themselves do not appear fraudulent.” (Bermeo).
During the 2016 election process, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Ortega’s party, ran the candidates that they preferred rather than the candidates that were chosen during the local primary surveys. These candidates were put in place to ensure that Ortega and his party won. Daniel Ortega won the 2016 election with 72.1% of the votes. According to the Nicaragua Center of Human Rights, post-election riots between the government and the opposing side, Independent Liberation Party and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, resulted in seven recorded deaths.
Ortega’s win in the 2016 election has led to more democratic backsliding/erosion. The first major example of this is his consolidation of ALL the branches of government and began to take control of most public institutions. Ortega taking control of majority of the public institutions, allows for great influence over the political choices of the people. The citizens of Nicaragua will tend to follow Ortega, not because they agree with him, but instead because they want to keep the jobs they have in the institutions. Thus, allowing Ortega to continue to gain the control while no one wants to take a stand against him. This shows democratic backsliding by throwing off the checks and balances of distribution of power, which is a key component for a good democracy. Another major example of democratic backsliding found in Nicaragua is nepotism in many levels. Nepotism is when a family member of the leader is put in a place of power. This is often bad for a democracy because the family members are often loyalists who will not go against the leader (family member) or they may abuse their place of power. Ortega’s wife has the role of vice president and making many decisions of the different branches of government. His sons and daughters are also appointed positions in the government such as ambassador and presidential advisor.
Ortega’s power allowed him to take control of public institutions also included the media/press. The political harassment of the media has substantially increased since Ortega’s second term in 2007. Many journalists have been detained from covering protects that go against Ortega in any form, some even go as far as receiving death threats. Over eighty percent of the country’s television channels, radio stations, newspapers, and various sources of online media were all under the control of the FSLN according to the Nicaraguan Center of Human Rights. The rights of the individual are questionable at times. Free choice of religion is still respected, although some Catholic and Evangelical church leaders have reported that the government has criticized the church through Ortega’s administration; even reported of delay of imported goods and a holding of donations to the church. Academic standings are also highly respected; however, primary/secondary schools have been required to attend pro-FSLN rallies. The rights of the individual to openly speak out about their political belief is usually said to be free, however, people are increasingly self-censoring for fear of being punished. The internet is still permitted with full access.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the United States have openly spoken out about their concerns for the Nicaraguan government and the manipulation of the elections. On the other hand, Latin American governments have stayed silent. “The Latin American diplomats in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, privately acknowledge the slow decline of Nicaragua’s democracy; however, they have also been disinclined to speak out.”
Nicaragua is now identified as a party free country with a freedom rating of 4.5 out of 7; political rights ranking of 5 out of 7; and a civil liberty ranking of 4 out of 7. This makes Nicaragua’s aggregate score a 44 out of 100. Looking at this data, a conclusion that Nicaragua is party free according to Freedom House. If the democratic backsliding trends continue to occur in Nicaragua, it will soon become not free.
“Nicaragua.” Nicaragua | Freedom House, 16 Feb. 2018, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/nicaragua.
Stuenkel, Oliver Della Costa, and Andreas E. Feldmann. “The Unchecked Demise of Nicaraguan Democracy.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, carnegieendowment.org/2017/11/16/unchecked-demise-of-nicaraguan-democracy-pub-74761.
Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding.”
Watts, Jonathan. “Nicaragua President Re-Elected in Landslide amid Claims of Rigged Vote.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Nov. 2016, www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/07/nicaragua-president-daniel-ortega-reelected-landslide-vote-rigging.