The Carter Center has observed elections in Nicaragua since 1989 and supported other steps by its citizens and leaders to strengthen peace and democracy in their nation after years of rule by dictators.
Opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro emerged as the president-elect after a campaign in which she and President Daniel Ortega were tied in opinion polls. Carter Center observers found the election to be fair and open, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter brokered an agreement for a transition of power.
President Carter wrote of this election: "For the first time in Nicaragua, power was transferred peacefully from the incumbent to a rival after a free and fair election. And for the first time in the world, a revolutionary regime that came to power through armed struggle turned over control of the government to its adversaries as a result of voters' choice. The elections in Nicaragua were truly a historic moment for democracy."
The Center observed elections in Nicaragua again in October 1996 — a critical test of the new democracy. Despite considerable administrative challenges and disputes over election results, the process concluded peacefully with the election of Arnoldo Aleman as Nicaragua's new president. The Center's observers were impressed with the high voter turnout and the many party poll-watchers.
Fall 2000 Observation Mission
At the invitation of the Supreme Electoral Council, The Carter Center undertook a three-part election observation mission in fall 2000. In September, a small study team evaluated preparations for municipal elections and then observed the Nov. 5 municipal elections as well as preparations for the presidential election the following year.
In late 2001, President Aleman's term in office was coming to a close. He was one of the most unpopular presidents in Nicaragua's history, dogged by widespread accusations of corruption during his term. Elections were set for November with Aleman's vice president, Enrique Bolanos, running against former President Daniel Ortega.
The Center's observers found the November presidential and legislative elections to be generally smooth and fair, but said behind-the-scenes politicking to determine party eligibility to be on the ballot revealed institutional weaknesses in the decade-old democracy. Observers urged Nicaragua to refine its political institutions, including the Supreme Electoral Council. Enrique Bolanos was elected president.
The Carter Center returned to Nicaragua to observe the 2006 election process.
The 62-member international observation delegation found the election climate to be competitive and the election administration to be adequate, with improvements over past electoral processes. The 2006 elections had five political parties competing energetically in a campaign free of violence. The military and police played a positive and nonpartisan role supporting the elections.
FSLN leader Daniel Ortega won an undisputed victory, although with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote. Four parties gained representation in the legislature, and the results of only one legislative race were questioned. The results were recognized by the international community, and the new president and legislature were inaugurated in January 2007.
A five-person delegation of members and advisers to the Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter visited Nicaragua during the presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 6, 2011. The delegation sought to understand the perspectives of various social and political actors, including candidates, about the electoral process and post-electoral scenarios for Nicaragua. They did not evaluate the voting process itself.
The group released a statement about the elections on Nov. 9, 2011, acknowledging the strong electoral support given to President Ortega but expressing concern about reports of significant deficiencies in the electoral process and the implications for democratic governance.
The Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program partnered with the Nicaraguan government and civil society in the mid-2000s to support the passage of a strong access to information law, which took place under the leadership of President Daniel Ortega on May 22, 2007 and went into effect at the end of December 2007.
Representatives of the Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter visited Nicaragua in 2005, when Nicaraguans were divided over a constitutional revision passed by the legislature but rejected by the president. Accompanied by the former foreign minister of Argentina, Dante Caputo, and the former minister for human rights in Mexico, Mariclaire Acosta, Carter Center staff experts on Nicaragua assessed the crisis and encouraged dialogue. The group reported its findings to the Organization of American States, encouraging that body to assist Nicaragua in overcoming its tense divide, and an OAS mission was undertaken.
In the mid-1990s, the Carter Center's Americas Program staff members traveled to Nicaragua to analyze land and property rights disputes and explore resolutions. With the U. N. Development Program, the Americas Program sponsored a forum in Nicaragua on property issues. Participants, including national political officials, former property owners, current occupants, and foreign ambassadors, reached consensus on a few key reforms. At President Carter's recommendation, a follow-up commission met to explore carrying out these and other reforms and made recommendations to the National Assembly, which subsequently passed a property law reflecting the spirit of the conference.
President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, visited Managua in November 1998 to call international attention to the suffering and humanitarian need caused by Hurricane Mitch. Following a flight over Nicaragua's disaster zone, President Carter told reporters he predicted the recovery would be lengthy and urged lenders to forgive the country's foreign debts and those of neighboring Honduras.
Although Latin America spends relatively less on defense than most other regions, expenditures on expensive weapons systems divert scarce foreign exchange from more effective investments, including education. They also compel neighbors to spend more on defense and, by doing so, generate international tensions. Concerned about an arms race in Latin America, the Carter Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas urged governments in the region to pause before embarking on major arms purchases. Between April 1997 and March 1998, 28 current and 14 former heads of government signed a written pledge to accept a moratorium of two years on purchasing sophisticated weapons. Among the signatories was Nicaragua President Arnoldo Aleman.
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Size: 130,370 square kilometers
Population: 5,907,881 (2015 est.)
Population below poverty line: 43 percent
Life expectancy: 73 years
Ethnic groups: Mixed ancestry, white, black, Amerindian
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant (Evangelical, Moravian), Jehovah's Witness, other, none
Languages: Spanish (official), Miskito, Mestizo of the Caribbean coast, other
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016