Daniel Ortega’s New Kind of Coup

MANAGUA – Amid accusations of fraud and expressions of serious doubt by international observers, Daniel Ortega’s re-election as Nicaragua’s president constitutes a new kind of “incumbent’s” coup – one that establishes a dangerous precedent for Latin America. What to do about it poses a grave dilemma for the Organization of American States (OAS).

According to the European Union’s electoral observers, there was a “serious loss” in the election’s democratic quality, while Nicaragua’s own election monitors, its chamber of commerce, and the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church called the voting “not transparent” and demanded the resignation of the entire Supreme Electoral Council. Unfortunately, the OAS – though bound by the Inter-American Democratic Charter – has failed to act, revealing that it is not prepared to address the gray areas of electoral fraud.

Ortega’s re-election to a third term, prohibited by Nicaragua’s constitution, completes the last stage of a “coup from above,” in which a government that came to power as a democratically elected political minority in 2006, uses its control of state institutions – the courts and electoral machinery, in particular – to undermine the rule of law. With his widely documented history of fraud in the 2008 municipal elections, Ortega is on his way to becoming Latin America’s Robert Mugabe.

In most of Latin America, electoral fraud has become a thing of the past. Ortega’s victory, achieved by emulating the machinations of Mexico’s long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and of Alberto Fujimori’s elected dictatorship in Peru in the 1990’s, strongly suggests that Latin American democracy remains fragile.