Interview with Dr. Roberto Rivas, Presidente of the Supreme Electoral Council

June 16th 2011

Tortilla con Sal : Opposition politicians and media have questioned the integrity and legitimacy of the electoral authority and described them as “de facto”. Have you any observations on that criticism?

Roberto Rivas : I think the Nicaraguan opposition to some degree is responsible for not having elected the authorities that make up the different institutions of the Nicaraguan State like the Judicial power, the Electoral power and the Auditor-General. In 2010, the President of the Republic on January 10th published a decree, number three of that year in which it stated that 25 public officials whose periods of office expired during that year should continue in their positions if there were no agreement in the country's parliament to elect new authorities.

Subsequently, there also exists an article in the political Constitution which is Article 201, paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution which has not been revoked by the different reforms down the years and which states that if the parliament does not elect new authorities then the authorities of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Supreme Electoral Council, the Auditor-General of the Republic and other authorities should continue in their posts.

This happens in many countries in the world, including in Europe, in Spain and in many countries of South America. When the countries' parliaments don't agree on electing new authorities, logically the authorities that make up those institutions continue in their posts.

I simply ask myself : What would happen to the constitutional duty of holding elections on November 6th 2011 if the parliament still fails to agree on the election of the authorities to the Supreme Electoral Council? Would there not be elections so President Ortega would have to continue in office?

TcS: Is the Supreme Electoral Council obliged to obey the ruling as regards re-election made by the Supreme Court of Justice?

RR : The resolutions, and this is the Constitution, of the Supreme Court of Justice are binding. All the powers of State are obliged to obey the resolutions of the Supreme Court of Justice which is the body that ultimately decides on constitutional matters. What happened in Nicaragua is that  President Ortega along with 104 of the country's 153 mayors presented a writ to the Supreme Electoral Council asking for and claiming their right to elect and to be elected as laid out in our Magna Carta, the political Constitution.

The Elecotral Council rejected that writ and resplied satating that teh Supreme Electoral Council was not the competent body to decide whether or not to accept re-election as such.

On the writ being rejected by the Electoral Council, President Daniel Ortega, along with the 104 mayors, appealed to an Appeals Tribunal in Managua. The Appeals Tribunal accepted the appeal of President Ortega and the 104 mayors and passed it up to the Constitutional Division of the Supreme Court of Justice. That body ruled that in fact President Ortega and the 104 mayors had the right to elect and to be rlected which is a citizen's right enshrined in the political Constitution of the Republic.

Subsequently again, this ruling was passed to the ultimate tribunal which is the Supreme Court of Justice and the Court in plenary session ratified the resolution of its Constitutional Division.
This is something we have seen not just in Nicaragua. Recently we saw the re-election of President Arias in the Republic of Costa Rica, who even spent some time waiting for the Fourth Chamber of Costa Rica's Supreme Court  permitting him to be re-elected. A similar situation also arose in the Republic of Colombia  with the re-election of President Uribe based on a resolution of the Supreme Court there and we have seen the same  in different countries in Latin America.

I think re-election is not something negative. Re-election should be permitted in every country in teh world because it is something that gives to the citizen exercising a country's premier office the possibility of continuing a project and peoples expressing themselves via their vote on election day will know whetehr to reward or punish whoever has led a good government or whoever has led a bad government.

TcS : The opposition also claim that the elections cannot be valid without international election observation. Is that a matter of concern for you and your colleagues?

RR : I've been a magistrate of the Supreme Electoral Council in Nicaragua for 16 or 17 years, I've lost count. Nicaragua has its own characteristics. It is a power of State. It is one of the four pillars of the Nicaraguan State, in the same way as the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature and so I think electoral matters are an issue for Nicaraguan, not for the international community. The President and the authorities that get elected are to to govern us Nicaraguans not to govern the rest of the world.

However, Nicaragua has been a country  that has permitted electoral accompaniment or observation . It did so in 1990, with an army of observers so there were almost more observers than voters at teh time. Also there was observation in 1996 with the election of Dr. Arnoldo Alemán as President. There was too in 2001 with the election of President Enrique Bolaños. And there was in 2006. Now the Electoral Council on August 16th this year  is going to rule on international accompaniment.

Accompaniment is a new term that has gained currency in relation to electoral observation, in practice it amounts to the same and I always say that accompaniment is a stronger concept because it allows me to be alongside people. But I think we Nicaraguans are the ones who are responsible directly participating firstly as voters, secondly as members of the political parties, thirdly as the parties'  polling officers supervising whether the electoral process is transparent or not.

Now it's superfluous to say that our electoral processes have been transparent. In 1990, President Ortega lost the election when he was a candidate. In 1996 Daniel Ortega was also a candidate when Dr. Alemán won. In 2001, President Bolaños won when Daniel Ortega was as candiate and in 2006 President Daniel Ortega did indeed win the elections against other candidates.

So I think for the Nicaraguan people in the same way that we talk about all of Latin America, democracy expresses itself through the polling booth and therefore this is the competency of Nicaraguans. But in any case we are not against the idea. We're going to issue regulations taking into consideration the notions of the European Union on electoral observation,also what the United Nations charter says about electoral observation and what the Organization of American States says.

Furthermore we will take into consideration some regulations of certain countries as has been the case with México, Venezuela, as has been the case of Costa Rica too, of Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay,Uruguay, in sum all the countries of Latin America, and even Europe too, for the regulations to be set out for observers.

We are not against accompaniment. What we oppose is intervention, that people come here as delegates of the international community to serve merely as complaints offices or wanting to intervene or interfere in the electoral processes. We are completely open. We have nothing to hide in Nicaragua.

Here there's going to be an electoral process as transparent as they have always been, a process as legitimate as it has always been, at least so long as the deputies currently in the National Assembly turn up saying the electoral process of 2006 was illegitimate and so therefore they should not be deputies in the National Assembly. I don't think they're about to say that now after five years of carrying out their duties.

So in that case, here there is nothing against international accompaniment, but there is against intervention in electoral matters. We cannot permit intervention. We welcome the international community that want to come within the regulations that the Supreme Electoral Council establishes for that end and always assuming that they are invited by the Republic's Foreign Ministry which is our gateway to the world.

TcS: Recently, an allegation has been made by the Etica y Transparencia organization suggesting that more than 1000 polling stations might be open to fraud or manipulation in the forthcoming elections. Can you comment?

RR: I think Etica y Transparencia are looking for publicity so as to attract international financial support, to pay for all their highly paid staff without publishing their financial statements. That for one thing. But I cannot prove that and so I only offer that as the view of one citizen on what Etica y Transparencia might be like rather than as an accusation.

Secondly, Etica y Transparencia talk about 1200 polling stations, which is a statement that already incriminates the organization insomething that would have to be investigated perhaps even by the Electoral Fiscal Office, given that if they have proof that there is going to be fraud in 1200 polling stations, well they will have to demonstrate it,  how that fraud is going to be done, because as of now we have absolutely no indication that there is going to be anything different from all the previous electoral processes.

And perhaps it's important for the world to know that Etica y Transparencia have served as little more than a launching pad for individuals who want to be Presidential candidates, as was the case of Carlos Tunnerman Bernheim who was a candidate for the Vice-Presidency.

So what am I to say? Those 1200 polling stations at risk of fraud do not exist. That is a falsehood. Totally false. If the political parties have doubts then they have only to worry about there being a fiscal officer for each political party from each one of the five political alliances in every one of  more than 13000polling stations and there they can see, ratify and sign the electoral count documents and that way the Nicaraguan people will know who was elected and the legitimacy of their election.