In response to an invitation from the government of Nicaragua, and in accordance with Chapter V of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Organization of American States (OAS) deployed a Mission composed of 26 participants from 10 OAS Member States to witness the municipal elections that took place on Sunday, November 4, 2012.
The Mission began its work in October with a preliminary visit in which meetings were held with electoral and governmental authorities, political parties and the diplomatic community accredited in the country, and during which agreements were signed granting the immunities and access necessary to perform the required task.
The OAS Mission, headed by Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, would like to highlight that the municipal elections were held in an atmosphere of civility in which the citizens of Nicaragua were able to exercise their right to vote peacefully.
The OAS Mission
The OAS representatives visited 11 of the 17 departments of the country to observe the preparations for Election Day, the transfer of materials, and to hold meetings with local authorities and then accompany the exercise of the right to vote, among other things. At this point, the Mission had guarantees of access to carry out their tasks normally, for which it thanks the support of the electoral authorities, at all levels, for this purpose.
With respect to the day of the vote, the Mission would like to underline that the opening of polling stations was carried out mostly on time with electoral materials needed for the vote available. In particular, the OAS Mission noted the high number of women who made up and chaired polling stations, and assumed oversight responsibilities on behalf of their parties, which shows their commitment to the democratic process. Additionally, the Mission notes the design of the voting booths, which helps to ensure the secret vote. It must be said, however, that in some polling stations visited by members of this mission, the location of the booths did not contribute to providing voters the necessary privacy.
Regarding the distribution of the members of polling stations by party, the Mission reiterates the recommendation made in previous processes to consider a reform of the criteria for the selection of the members of the polling stations by choosing them from the citizens listed in the voter registration list. It would be an important step to encourage greater commitment of citizens to the electoral process, and to differentiate and thus strengthen the respective roles of the members of the polling stations and party representatives.
In relation to the transmission of results after the vote, the Mission observed the procedure for submission of cumulative results at the level of the voting centers unlike the practice in previous elections of presenting results at the polling stations.
Party representatives have a fundamental role to ensure that the will of the voter is effectively reflected in the election results. In terms of the accreditation of representatives, the Mission sees as a positive the fact that the delivery of accreditation has been decentralized to the municipal level. At the same time, it warns of the need to refine the procedures to make it easier for the actors to comply in a timely and appropriate way with their obligations in this area.
With respect to the voter list, this Mission is pleased to see the adoption of the recommendation made earlier by the OAS, relative to the review of the list of registered voters. On Election Day, it was noted that some citizens, although they carried an identification card, did not appear on any list. The Mission considers it advisable that, in addition to the measures already taken, continuing steps toward further refinement of voter lists take place. While it is clear that all voter lists become outdated the day they are published, it is essential to continue working to bring greater reliability and accuracy to this instrument.
Moreover, the Mission noted that election materials for the Atlantic Autonomous Regions were printed only in Spanish. Similarly, we were informed that training of polling station members and party representatives in these regions was conducted only in Spanish. In order to remain consistent with the spirit of the law of autonomy of the two regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which recognizes that "the languages of the communities of the Atlantic Coast will be used officially in the Autonomous Regions," we consider their inclusion important for future processes.
The OAS Mission recognizes the recent electoral reform that establishes the implementation of gender parity, with the obligatory alternation in the submission of the lists of candidacies participating in municipal elections, election of deputies of the National Assembly and of the Central American Parliament, and effective effort by political parties to comply with it. No doubt, this measure will lead to effective access of women to political decision-making positions, and puts Nicaragua in the group of countries at the forefront in promoting the participation of women.
As part of its work, the Mission observed the system established for the financing of election campaigns. The rules in this area are generally adequate and are met in practice, but more mechanisms to generate even greater equity could be considered.
On one hand, the delivery of public funds to the campaign after the election leads the parties to resort to banks for funding during the campaign, which in turn request the financial support they need to approve the loans. Consequently, parties with less financial solvency are at a disadvantage in the financing of their campaigns.
On the other hand, some adjustments could be considered in the private financing of campaigns, specifically, the incorporation of prohibitions on contributions from foreign nationals and limits on private donations with the goal, among other things, of creating better conditions for fairness and transparency in electoral competition.
Finally, the Mission noted that the accountability and established controls are focused on campaign spending, more than on income. Accountability on income could help generate more and better available information, to increase transparency and reduce the risk of the contribution of improper resources.
The recent electoral reform, that takes into account the recommendations of the OAS, is undoubtedly an important step forward. One year after the presidential election, and four years before the next election, the Mission believes that there is opportunity for further improvements in the Nicaraguan electoral system, understanding that processes like this that require the assistance of the various social and political actors, must be carried out according to the sovereign decision and the possibilities of each country. Respectfully, and in the interest of contributing to the improvement of the electoral system in Nicaragua, the Mission suggests the following recommendations:
1) Consider alternatives for the reform of the composition of the polling stations so that those citizens registered in the electoral rolls are chosen for this task at random and in a transparent way.
2) Consider incorporating the publication of the image of the tally sheets from each of the polling stations, in accordance with relevant considerations, and adopting appropriate security mechanisms.
3) Consider improving mechanisms for accreditation of party representatives.
4) Consider additional procedures to continuously review the voter registry and establish a coordinated database infrastructure for handling information on deaths, new inclusions, and names dropped from the rolls, among other things.
5) Develop electoral materials and conduct electoral training in native languages of the communities in the Atlantic Autonomous Regions.
6) Monitor the effective implementation of the law of parity, in particular, to ensure that women chosen actually take office.
7) Consider the possibility of establishing a mechanism to deliver a percentage of public funding directly at the start of the electoral process and the rest afterwards.
8) Accompany the effective accountability of campaign spending with mechanisms for accountability of campaign income.
In 2012, the OAS is marking 50 years observing elections. The objective of these missions is to cooperate with the Member States to strengthen their democratic systems. In this sense, as established in the agreement of procedures for this Mission signed between the General Secretariat of the OAS and the Nicaraguan electoral authority, once the electoral process is concluded, the Mission reiterates its firm commitment to hold a post- election visit, in order to follow up the recommendations with the relevant authorities, and offer the support of the OAS during the entire election cycle.
In the coming weeks, the Chief of Mission, Lázaro Cárdenas, will be presenting a report to the OAS Permanent Council on the activities of the Mission in Nicaragua.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.