With seven opposition candidates behind bars and thousands of critics abroad to escape the oppressive control of Ortega’s police, the septuagenarian leader and his colorful wife, Rosario Murillo, look undisputedly in control of the vote outcome. The biggest question now isn’t who will win — but how the rest of the region will react once Ortega declares victory.
Democracy has been eroding across Latin America: From north to south, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a trend of regional caudillos seizing the political stage and working to weaken democratic checks and balances.
Support for authoritarianism is strongest in younger generations, showed the poll, with 49% of people aged 16-25 saying they either support an authoritarian regime or are indifferent to the form of government.
And indifference to democratic government seems particularly acute in Central America, with the majority of poll respondents in the impoverished Northern Triangle nations Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador saying they would be in favor of a non-democratic government “if it resolves the country’s problems.”
Two challenges for the region
But the vote is going ahead anyway.
While many countries have condemned the arrest of opposition figures in Nicaragua — and the US has even imposed sanctions — they may be hesitant to push much further after being burned by their experience with Venezuela in recent years.
After a contested election in 2019, dozens of foreign governments chose not to acknowledge strongman Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, favoring instead opposition leader Juan Guaido. But the strategy backfired — two years later, Maduro retains control of the country and has effectively won his battle against international pressure.
“I think the Venezuelan crisis caused a certain caution among the international community over what to do in Nicaragua,” says Tiziano Breda, a Central American analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“After investing so much on Guaidó, and creating this impasse in Venezuela that has not resolved the crisis there, there is less clarity of what an alternative strategy for Nicaragua could be: opposing Ortega, sure, but what is the alternative?” Breda told CNN.