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Nicaragua is considered as the poorest country in Central America, as seen in various forms of democratic leadership alternating mainly between the leftist conservatives and rightist liberals, and blended with independents since inception. These leadership systems are mainly influenced by internal factors ranging from economic, military, social factors and, largely, external influence especially from United State of America.
Since inception of Nicaragua, there have been power struggles leading to 1937 when the National Guard took power from Sacasa, led by general Anastasio (Tacho) Somoza Garcia. The Somoza family ruled up to 1979 through the military, political arrangements, alliance with landed elite, and the support of the US government. With the people of Nicaragua lacking proper representation in the government, a guerrilla movement emerged in 1960s with inspiration of 'martyred' Sandino, leading to formation of the Sandinista national Liberation Front (FSLN). FSLN seized power after a fierce armed struggle in 1979, promising the country to promote an independent and free foreign policy and a balanced economy of development and social fairness.
Prior to the elections of 1990, Daniel Ortega of FSLN was elected the president in an election of 1984. This election was marked with pulling out of race and refusal to contest by some political parties including Cruz of Coordinadora (a Right wing political alliance) citing government would rig the election or refuse to cede power (Williams 6). This was credited by the independent observers as credible, while US refused to accept the results. In order to increase democratic space in Nicaragua, the US increased economic and military aggression through aiding the Contras (a counter revolutionary army), leading to reduction in democratic space witnessed during the election (Williams 8). Though faced with several set backs, this election laid ground for the 1990 election through increasing public participation in national issues and decision-making.
Following the progress made out of the 1984 election situation, election took place in 1990. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of UNO (an opposition coalition) won with 54.7 % of votes against 40.8 % of votes for Daniel Ortega of FSLN (Skidmore, et al. 4). This was a surprise, as the UNO was already laying grounds to claim rigging. The new liberal government of Chamorro had major challenges ahead to heal the long societal rifts due to contra war and gathering of political consensus on various matters among the coalition partners. With these in mind, transition talks were held and resolved: first, to end the war and provide amnesty to political crimes. Secondly, the military to be reorganized with consideration to interests of FSLN militants and supporters due to threat posed by contra especially through the retention of the chief of armed forces, Humberto Ortega and other Sandinistas serving in the military. Thirdly, to demobilize militant groups gradually; and lastly, FSLN to assist government in quest for international economic aid (Williams 14).
This agreement resulted in discontent within the UNO, and Chamorro was not able to maintain her political base. The economic aid helped reduced the inflation but growth remained poor, as unemployment increased from 12 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 1993 (Skidmore et al 4). There was continued fighting between recontras (former contras) and demobilized Sandinistas in areas where government was unable to provide adequate security and maintain law and order. In 1995, there were constitutional reforms that limited presidential term from six to five years, banned immediate reelection, and president from being succeeded by a close relative (Skidmore et al. 4).
In 1996, another liberal Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo of ALP won the election and faced a difficulty process of national healing between the recontras and Sandinistas. Two years down the line, IMF granted the country a major loan for infrastructure development. Unfortunately, Hurricane Mitch hit the country in October 1998, killing around 3000 people and causing more than $1 billion economic losses (Skidmore et al. 4). Aleman failed to handle the situation well, leading to waning of his popularity. To savage his situation and that of Ortega of FSLN, the two leaders agreed to strike a political consensus, leading to constitutional reforms allowing reelection and a simple majority win in elections.
In November 2001, Enrique Bolanos Geyer, a close ally of Aleman, won the election. After taking power, Bolanos opened corruption charges against Aleman, leading to his eventual imprisonment. This move angered many of legislative allies of Aleman, and Bolanos political wits dwindled and eventual party disunity ensued. With these developments, the influence of the right wing liberal party reduced and in the 2006 election, Daniel Ortega of FSLN won with a simple majority of 38.7 percent (Anderson& Dodd 2). This outcome worried other democrats based on the past Ortega democratic record, while most of the Nicaragua poor were happy based on the past record of Ortega's socioeconomic approach, thus placing much expectation on the administration.
Since taking power, Ortega has tried in a number of ways to settle various challenges facing his country, ranging from low economic growth, unemployment, drug trafficking, political issues, and other socioeconomic aspects. They include, first, he has complied with IMF condition for continued funding. Secondly, the government has put more efforts to alleviating poverty, fighting drug trafficking, and has honored the free trade treaty between Central American countries and US for continued US aid (Anderson& Dodd 6). Thirdly, the government has struggled to maintain low economic growth set by predecessor and at the same time, taking care of socioeconomic programs.
Fourthly, he is a close ally of President Hugo Chavez, thus securing low priced oil from Venezuela to fuel the economy (Anderson& Dodd 6). However, being a minority president politically, he has faced stiff opposition in trying to balance between democratic principles and his autocratic tendencies mainly championed by his wife Rosario who limits media freedoms and has created parallel local councils (CPCs) that directly answers to Ortega and the national FSLN rather than local voters (Anderson& Dodd 11).
With Ortega's age and failing health, conflict between the more democratic municipal units and the authoritarian central government is imminent. Moreover, Ortega is faced with an uphill task of maintaining his government and transitioning into the next government.