In November of 2021, when presidential elections were being held, a slogan quedate en casa was adopted to encourage those who opposed Daniel Ortega to stay home and not vote, as all of the opposition against Ortega were jailed.
On November 7th of 2021, Daniel Ortega won his fourth consecutive term in office as President of Nicaragua. A supposed free and fair election was just another authoritarian act to control the country by Ortega. The United States President, Joe Biden, referred to the November 7th election as a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair”. President Biden signed laws that increased sanctions against Nicaragua, which calls for a series of reports of alleged corruption done by the Ortega family. The election ballot included Ortega and other Sandinista party members who were running. So where was the opposition? Why was there no choice to vote for other candidates of different parties?
Back in the summer of 2021, Ortega’s government began to arrest opposition leaders and jail them. The opposition leaders arrested were found guilty for undermining the national integrity of the country and were given lengthy sentences up to 13 years. A year prior to these arrests, in December of 2020, the Nicaraguan Congress passed a law that prohibits “traitors” from running for office. The definition of traitor in this context is described as someone who “undermines independence, sovereignty, and self determination” or someone who “damages the supreme interests of the nation”. It was a warning to any who dared to oppose Ortega in the upcoming elections for the next year and a limit to the free and fair elections.
The corruption of the upcoming election was seen by many citizens in Nicaragua, however 2018 protests against Ortega’s government proved to be violent and deadly. Instead, the citizens adopted the phrase “quedáte en casa” or stay at home, to encourage people not to vote since all of the opposition candidates were jailed.
There is a lot to be said about Ortega’s presidency and it seems as though he is choosing to run the country under a “populist” stance with some elements of stealth authoritarianism at play, too. In 2015, a study published by Ozan Varol called “Stealth Authoritarianism” outlined the ways in which “democratic” leaders could implement policies that would lead to the downfall of democracy and allow the possibility to turn the country into a dictatorship. One way Varol outlined was the changing of electoral laws to prohibit other candidates from running for office. The example Varol uses is the entry thresholds, which many countries use to prevent too many political parties that could possibly weaken the government. However this could also be seen in other ways. Any laws used to disenfranchise the opposition could be used in this contect. An example of this can be seen when the Nicaraguan Congress signed into law to prevent “traitors” from running against the current standing President.
From what we can see Ortega’s government is openly suppressing rights and people are taking notice, which is a characteristic of populist leaders who tend to convince the country of “us versus them”. Although citizens are challenging him, it’s safe to say that he is still trying to run under populist notion, which is how he previously gained support of the country in earlier years dating back to 2007. The law he implemented to suppress candidates from running poses a threat to the so-called “democracy” because it does not recognize legitimate opponents. Even those from the same party running are not recognized. Populism is also characterized by the downfall of civil liberties and society, which can be seen under Ortega’s rule.
Ortega’s harmful actions started back when he was re-elected in 2007 and since has remained Nicaragua’s only president. It’s important that we look at his most recent endeavor to suppress the people of Nicaragua and recognize the fall of democracy in this country that was previously deemed a democracy.