Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, has been accused of trying to consolidate his family’s grip on power by choosing his wife to run as his vice-presidential candidate in November’s elections.
Ortega, a guerrilla turned politician, is hoping to win a third consecutive term for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) by running on a ticket with Rosario Murillo, who currently serves as the government’s communications chief.
The 70-year-old politician ruled the Central American country from 1979-1990 after his Sandinista movement overthrew the US-backed Somoza regime. Since Ortega was returned to office in 2006, the first lady has played an active and high-profile role in his government, leading to accusations that she is already his de facto deputy.
Murillo, 65, who is known for her idiosyncratic blend of socialism, Roman Catholicism and new age beliefs, is credited with overhauling both her husband’s image and that of the movement he leads. The combat fatigues, red-and-black flags and fiery rhetoric have been replaced with civilian attire, pink campaign posters and less confrontational messages.
After the FSLN announced the couple’s joint candidacy, Ortega hailed his choice of running mate as proof of the country’s commitment to equality. “We talked about who could take on the vice-presidency to carry on the good work of this country’s government,” he said. “It had to be a woman and who better than our colleague Rosario, who’s gone about her duties with a lot of efficiency, discipline, dedication and commitment?”
Murillo said the Sandinista revolution had allowed women to play an ever-greater role in Nicaraguan society: “This revolution – in which women have participated shoulder to shoulder – has opened the doors to the full participation of women in all spheres: political, social and economic.”
However, the move was swiftly attacked by the couple’s political opponents, who said the notion of a first lady running for vice-president was in breach of Nicaragua’s constitution. Eliseo Núñez, a former congressman for the opposition liberal party, described the announcement as “absolutist, totalitarian and without respect for the law”.
“I have always thought that Ortega’s plan was to guarantee his family’s succession in case he can’t go on or isn’t around, and this is proof of that,” Núñez told AP. “To me, it’s an insult – not just to all Nicaraguans, but also to the entire Sandinista movement – because it says that in Nicaragua there are no Sandinistas or Sandinista women who can aspire to this role; only the Ortega-Murillo family.”
Two years ago, Nicaraguan lawmakers approved constitutional changes allowing Ortega to be re-elected indefinitely, prompting accusations that the president was trying to hold on to office for life. In June, the country was criticised for trying to bring about a one-party regime after the supreme court ousted Eduardo Montealegre as leader of the main opposition party, the Independent Liberal party (PLI).
Last Friday, the supreme electoral court unseated 16 members of the PLI from congress for failing to recognise Montealegre’s replacement, Pedro Reyes. Amid talk of a government-orchestrated parliamentary coup, one of the ousted members, Carlos Legrand, said he and his colleagues had been unseated for refusing “to bow our heads before Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship”.
Although the PLI and the Constitutionalist Liberal party are running in the 6 November elections, a poll published last week had them lagging far behind Ortega, who was well ahead with 65%.