Secret vote observer in Nicaragua.How do they monitor the problematic presidential election

They planned a mission for several months to communicate through encrypted text to avoid detection by the authorities.

The Nicaraguan government excluded traditional international monitors to review Sunday’s presidential election. As a result, about 1,450 volunteers are stationed in 563 polling centers across the country to complete the work themselves.

There is no doubt who will win.On the eve of the election, the government of Daniel Ortega, a former guerrilla who has been president since 2007 Arrested seven potential candidates And imprisoned dozens of critics. Officially, his Sandinista National Liberation Front won 75% of the vote.

Grassroots polls led by a group called Urnas Abiertas (open ballot boxes) brought some transparency to the widely condemned election as illegal. Volunteers observed paramilitary surveillance of polling stations, Sandinista militants pressing residents to vote, and government vehicles being used to transport residents to polling stations.

But the most surprising thing is that it estimates that only 18.5% of eligible Nicaraguans voted — far below the official turnout rate of 65%.

In a country with little political freedom, many Nicaraguans seem to have heeded the call of opposition activists, who urged residents to boycott the election and spread the hashtag #QuedateEnCasa, or “stay at home.”

“In the form of silence, we saw activism,” said Juan Diego Barberena, the 25-year-old leader of the Blue and White National Unity Organization, whose eight members are in the elections. Was illegally arrested the day before. “This is a lesson for all Nicaraguans. If we unite, we can reject dictatorship.”

Ortega’s re-election was quickly condemned as undemocratic by the European Union, neighboring Costa Rica and the United States. In a speech on Monday, Ortega said that his critic in prison was “the son of the bitch of the Yankee imperialists.”

The government stated that it recognized more than 200 “election partners” from foreign groups deemed friendly to the Sandinista government, rather than independent election monitors.

The National Assembly, controlled by the ruling party, issued a statement stating that observers “seem to be satisfied with the free and democratic Nicaragua election process”. The Supreme Electoral Commission, which oversees the elections, did not respond to requests for comment on the opinions of Urnas Abiertas’ poll observers.

An invalid ticket says "Sandinista Assassin" with "Freedom of political prisoners."

An invalid ticket reads “Sandino Assassin” and “Freedom of Political Prisoners”.

According to one of its founders, Pedro Fonseca, Urnas Abiertas was founded last spring and is run by a small number of interdisciplinary people. It worked with five civil society groups to recruit election supervisors.

A volunteer said that she visited three polling centers in the town-walking, driving, and riding a motorcycle to drive away anyone who might follow her.

“You don’t feel scared, you think you are doing something at least,” said the 20-year-old student. Out of concerns about her safety, she only revealed her name-Alejandra. “This is something you can do for your country, even if it is not that important.”

Throughout the day, she kept in touch with her family. She said she saw about five people entering the polling center every hour.

Some government workers sent her photos showing how they could cancel their votes by checking the boxes of multiple candidates or writing “freedom of political prisoners” or “freedom of Nicaragua”.

When she got home, she closed the doors and windows, suddenly worried about a backlash.

“I think it was at that moment that people realized the risks,” she said.

Despite their attempts to be cautious, several other observers were still detained.

Jeanne Lincoln, the Carter Center’s senior consultant for Latin America, who helped monitor Nicaragua’s past elections, praised the organization’s efforts.

“Under the circumstances of high and high personal risk, when the government has set up many obstacles to any serious election observation work, domestic inspectors are able to gather information about what happened on election day,” she said.

The organization’s 18.5% turnout rate is estimated based on the number of voters in about one-fifth of the country’s polling stations.

Hilary Francis, a Nicaraguan historian at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, said: “It is difficult to determine a number, but we have photos and videos from all over the country showing that polling stations are empty, which shows that the number is likely to be correct.” .

Opposition leaders said that if it were not for the government’s efforts to force people to vote, the turnout rate might have been lower.

Barberena said that observers reported that, seeing voters taking government vehicles to polling stations, members of the Civil Rights Committee (a neighborhood committee controlled by the Sandinista Party) visited door to door, telling residents to vote as soon as possible and reminding them that they have benefited from the government. Social projects.

He also heard from a medical student that she was asked to show her inked thumb as proof of voting before entering a military hospital in Managua. Nicaragua newspaper La Prensa Reports of similar cases.

“When the Sandinista Front thought it could do what it wanted to do to public workers and students, we were living with political violence in Nicaragua,” Barberena said.

A 17-year-old student in Managua only revealed her name-Ashley-she said that four members of the neighborhood committee showed up at her house on the morning of election day and used a truck to escort her family to the polling center.

“We are here to pick you up,” she recalled them.

The family said they would go to church and vote later. But when Ashley returned home around noon, the committee members were waiting. Ashly and her relatives told them they will vote at 3pm

The committee members returned and escorted Ashley and her mother to vote. The family convinced officials that Ashley’s grandmother could not go out because of a toothache, and her great-grandmother could not go because the pandemic risk was too great.

In the almost empty polling center-only a two-minute drive-Ashley crossed the boxes for all candidates and cancelled her vote.

“I’m really nervous,” she said. “I thought,’I hope they do nothing.'”

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