This headline should make you look twice for two reasons. The first, of course, being that President Ortega did not actually lose the Nicaraguan elections last Sunday. He won his third term as president by a landslide, according to the numbers posted on La Prensa.
The second reason this headline is ridiculous is that the kind of credibility which a leader who is elected in Ortega’s fashion should lose has not been lost. In October 2009, a Corte Suprema ruling—by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) dominated court—decreed that the constitutional limitations restricting an individual to two terms as president, as well as outlawing consecutive presidential terms, was unconstitutional. (Subsequently, Ortega ignored the legislature’s outcry that the supreme court did not have the authority to overturn such a provision, and in a related ruling in January 2010, Ortega extended some of the FSLN judges’ terms on the court, which effectively stacked the court in his favor). Ortega was elected Sunday for his third term, and will hold this post consecutive to his second.
Reports are currently being issued about complaints of government intimidation at the polls, OAS and EU election observers being kept out of polling stations, and the subsequent non-acceptance of the election results by the opposition and independent observers. The seemingly buoyant argument that Ortega has helped the poor in Nicaragua and this is how he won the election (Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere next to Haiti) falls flat when one explores the widespread discontent with Ortega’s rule, as well as the unsustainable nature of funds for improvement projects (the Ortega-Chavez partnership).
What should be lost to Ortega, more than simple EU reports of inadequate elections and U.S. State Department press briefings highlighting election irregularities, is his ability to conduct business in Latin America in this way. As much as the “words will never hurt me” refrain is true on the preschool playground, it is also true in this case of international diplomacy. Consider diplomatic sanctions, from the limitation of bilateral relations to limitation of Nicaragua’s rights as a member of the OAS or UN until election irregularities can be addressed. Deal with Nicaragua’s economic (ALBA) link to Venezuela under the IMF framework.
The fact that none of this is likely to be considered is just one additional way in which Ortega has won an election widely recognized as fraudulent and undemocratic.