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UN: Nicaraguan Election Law Undermines Election Fairness

FILE - Cristiana Chamorro, one of Nicaragua’s main presumptive presidential candidates, talks to reporters in Managua, Nicaragua, May 21, 2021. .

United Nations human rights officials warn a new electoral law passed by Nicaragua’s National Assembly early this month undermines prospects that November’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be free and fair.

The consequences of the new law have been immediate. In recent weeks, Nicaraguan authorities have used the so-called reforms under the new law to dissolve two political parties. They also have initiated a criminal investigation of one of the country’s main presumptive presidential candidates, Cristiana Chamorro.

Spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado says the authorities are investigating Chamorro for alleged money laundering.

"The investigation is based on the law against money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction adopted in July 2018," Hurtado said. "This broadly worded law has raised general concerns that it may be used to silence dissent. The allegations against Ms. Chamorro include the supposed misuse of funds received from international sources.”

President Daniel Ortega has been a major political force in the country since the Sandinista Party overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. He has maintained an iron grip on power since his last reelection as president in 2006.

Hurtado says the National Police also have intensified actions to restrict the movements of other opposition leaders.

"Under these circumstances, the dissolution of political parties and the initiation of criminal investigations that could lead to the disqualification of opposition candidates, without due process, not only undermine the right to stand for election by aspiring candidates, but also the right of voters to elect the candidates of their choice," Hurtado said. "

The new electoral law is the latest in a series of measures adopted by the National Assembly that disproportionately restrict the right to freedom of expression by human rights defenders, journalists, political and social leaders.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on the Nicaraguan Government to stop harassing members of the opposition and journalists. It also is urging the authorities to amend the electoral law, which it says impinges on human rights and threatens a democratic electoral process.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an error in its previous version to clarify that Violeta Chamorro was not a candidate in Nicaragua's 2006 election.