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MAGGIE JO'S BLOG

PARTY POLITICS

13-11-2006

The Sandinistas gave the Clash an album title and the Americans a foreign policy headache. Now they're back in power after the recent Nicaraguan election. Birmingham fair trade campaigner Maggie Jo St. John is in the country, teaching English to members of remote coffee growing communities. Here's her first hand account of the vote.

The big event in Nicaragua has been the elections. An interesting time to be here. The FSLN under Daniel Ortega are back with the Presidency, after 16 years. It'll be fascinating to see how things develop politically next year; it could be tricky. The votes in the Assembly are very split, no one has a majority so I guess there'll be a lot of wheeling and dealing.

For the sake of the majority i.e the poor, I hope that the FSLN can get through some policy changes that really do improve education, employment, basic health care and the like. The USA made various threats during the campaign about what they'd do if Daniel Ortega won the presidency, thus ironically increasing the vote for the FSLN as so many people took against their blatant interference but hopefully they States won't put their threats into practice.

The election process is incredibly thorough. I chose to go to a rural community for election day and took my favourite route, which is a bus ride with great views and then a steep walk up through magical and mysterious woods of bearded oak trees; Spanish moss droops off them in vast quantities.

At the local school there was already a team keeping watch over the voting room and ballot papers. The vehicle that brought them, and would then take the counted votes and electoral team down to the town at around 10pm or later on Sunday, was standing by with a couple of hammocks slung underneath it. A dry and comfy spot for the drivers to sleep.

As I walked I met several of the young men I know carrying hammocks or blankets.

They were on their way to the school to guard the papers overnight. Elim, my hostess with the mostess, was the Fiscal, who observes the proceedings, and her eldest daughter Deylin was in the electoral team of 3. They have to count the papers before and after, check the identity cards of voters, hand over the papers and verify that everything is going properly. The President of the team is always from the party governing, so PLC this time, then the 1st member is from the next largest party ie the FSLN, so that was Deylin.

They started work at 5.30am on Sunday down at the school and returned home from Esteli, their task fulfilled at 5am the following day, so around 24 hours on duty. After everyone voted, they had to count the votes, fill in paperwork and then stand in line to deliver their results and all the ballot papers to the main counting centre in Esteli.

All the voters cheerfully and patiently waited in line to get their thumb dipped in indelible red ink: that's one of the ways in which fraud and voting more than once is prevented. So during the day I was going round my friends checking the state of their thumb to see if they'd made it to the front of the queue. A badge of honour that red thumb!

On election day you're not allowed to turn up to vote in party colours, and also from the evening before until after the final count, nowhere is allowed to sell alcohol.

The results are read out in stages, and early on it was clear that the polls were accurate: the Sandinistas were going to be back in power after 16 years. Monday afternoon down in Esteli, a stronghold, the people were out in force, feeling ˜muy alegreâ".

There was a big cavalcade of vehicles gathering for a tour of the streets, but it was unusually quiet - apparently they had to wait until the result was certain before they were allowed (by law) to begin celebrating, for which read honking their horns and turning up the stereo.

By 6pm the square was full of wildly cheering, cheerful people and the cavalcade was on its way.

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