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Carter Helps Monitor Nicaragua Presidential Election

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com Carter Helps Monitor Nicaragua Presidential
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2006
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      Carter Helps Monitor Nicaragua Presidential Election
      by Debbie Elliott
      All Things Considered, November 5, 2006

      Former president Jimmy Carter is monitoring Nicaragua's presidential
      elections. This is President Carter's fourth time monitoring
      Nicaraguan elections with the Carter Center. He talks with host
      Debbie Elliott about how the elections -- and Ortega himself -- look
      different this time around.

      Transcript of the Jimmy Carter Interview

      Debbie Elliott: International groups are monitoring the Nicaraguan
      election. Hundreds of observers from the Organization of American
      States, the European Union, and the Carter Center are on hand to
      observe the vote. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter himself is in
      Managua and joins me now. Welcome to the program, Mr. President.

      Jimmy Carter: Well, it's good to be with you and all the folks who
      listen to NPR.

      DE: Have observers there found any problems so far?

      JC: Well, minor problems. I went out early this morning before the
      polls opened and we were there when they did so. We were able to
      observe 24 voting sites before we came in for a press conference in
      Managua and there were some delays at the beginning because the
      officials are so meticulous and careful that it takes them a long
      time to get started. But once the lines started moving, they've been
      moving quite well.

      DE: Why is it that groups like yours wanted to be in Nicaragua for
      this vote? Were there indications that there could be some trouble
      there? What exactly were you there to look for?

      JC: Well, I personally and the Carter Center have been here for
      three previous elections beginning in 1990 when the Contra War was
      still in progress. And that was a very controversial election and a
      lot of violence around the country. And we were back here for two
      more elections subsequently, and so this is our fourth election.

      We're very interested in this country because it has had its trouble
      and a controversial past. But the people seem to have resolved their
      problems and I think almost universally throughout their population,
      they're now deeply dedicated to both democracy and peace and
      obviously economic progress.

      DE: Again Mr. President, I'd like to talk to you a little about this
      election and elections in the past. What were the issues in the
      past? Was it violence, was it intimidation, was it polls not being
      available to all the people? And how is that different today?

      JC: Well in 1990, for instance, the country was highly polarized
      between the Sandinistas and leaders who had been revolutionaries
      along with Daniel Ortega who were running against him. And as I said
      in that case the United States was still waging the Contra War
      against Nicaragua and in fact there were more than 40 counties up
      near Honduras that couldn't even vote because the Contras were still
      fighting the Sandinistas. And so that was a troubled time, and that
      was when the Carter Center was most deeply involved here just to
      bring a peaceful election. Obviously, the Sandinistas lost by about
      12 percent, and I stayed here for three or four days after that to
      negotiate between the winners and losers so they would accept the
      results peacefully and graciously. In 1996 and later in 2001, there
      were a lot of problems in the central election commission, actually
      disqualifying candidates who were qualified in our opinion. And that
      was a problem that was resolved, there was some very difficult vote
      counting. But I think almost all of those past problems have now
      been corrected. The Carter Center has had six delegations here
      beginning in January to observe the elections of a local nature and
      also elections along the Caribbean coast. And so looking at the
      results of those elections and the procedures in each case, the
      Supreme Electoral Council has corrected almost all the problems. So
      I think this present election is very likely to be much better than
      we've seen in the past.

      DE: Can you describe the change in the atmosphere, say, between one
      of those elections just after the war and today's election in

      JC: Well, of course the dominant factor in Nicaragua has been the
      rise and fall and then the rise and now the contention of the
      Sandinistas led by Daniel Ortega. And, as you know, the United
      States government has done all it could in recent years to prevent
      Ortega from being elected, and they have expressed a strong
      preference for other candidates who opposed him. This has been
      equaled I would say on the other hand by the fact that the leaders
      from Venezuela have seemed to prefer the election of Daniel Ortega.

      DE: In fact, President Chavez has actually offered cut-rate gas and
      fertilizer to Sandinista officials there.

      JC: That's correct. They have authorized the distribution of some
      oil through the government itself headed by President Bolaños, and
      also fertilizer at a low reduced price to some of the farmers, and,
      in that case, the Sandinistas distributed the fertilizer. At the
      same time, the U.S. government through its ambassador and through
      other representatives have publicly condemned Ortega and endorsed
      other candidates.

      DE: …And even said that the U.S. might stop aid to Nicaragua and
      that people might even be cut off from money that their relatives
      working in the U.S. are sending back home.

      JC: That's right.

      DE: Mr. President, how does that pressure affect the voters there?

      JC: I think in general it's counterproductive. I've seen not only in
      Nicaragua but in other countries, particularly in Latin America,
      when the United States tries to interfere in an election by
      condemning a candidate, that condemned candidate sometimes becomes
      stronger. That happened in Bolivia as you may know. And sometimes
      when they endorse a particular candidate it looks like that
      candidate represents a U.S. government instead of the people in
      which he's running. And so I think it's counterproductive to try to
      interfere in the affairs of a political nature in a sovereign

      DE: Should the U.S. be concerned about the prospect of an Ortega

      JC: Well, I'm not sure. This is our 67th election around the world.
      We have experience in many different kinds of elections. And I don't
      think there's any doubt that Ortega has attempted to change his
      reputation. In the past, for instance, the election, say in 1990,
      his colors were red and black, his symbol was a fighting rooster,
      and his words were very harsh. This time his campaign manager is his
      wife Rosario, and now the major colors on his billboards are
      pastels, and his major appeal is to peace and reconciliation. He
      endorses a principle of free enterprise instead of socialism. So
      he's tried to change his attitude in the public's mind, and whether
      he'll succeed we won't know until the votes are counted.

      DE: I've read where he's using John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance"
      as his campaign theme song.

      JC: Yes, that's true. And of course, as you know, in many countries
      around the world -- my wife and I have visited about 125 countries --
      you hear John Lennon's song "Imagine" used almost equally with
      national anthems. So John Lennon has had a major impact on some of
      the countries that are developing in the world.

      DE: Now, the Nicaraguan government changed the election rules this
      year, seemingly making it easier for Daniel Ortega to win without
      being forced into a run-off. Is that fair?

      JC: Well, it was passed with the approval of the people and their
      parliament. And there had to be other parties involved in addition
      to the Sandinistas. Yes, it's an interesting… if you get 40 percent,
      you win. If you get 35 percent, you win, provided you're five points
      ahead of the next candidate. So that means that there are going to
      be some very critical numbers that have to be considered when the
      votes are counted. The 40 percent, the 35 percent, the 5 percent
      difference. And then you got another very complex question of who is
      the second candidate? So you might have four different numbers to be
      determined that could make a very interesting outcome.

      DE: After your time spent there observing what's going on, do you
      believe the Nicaraguan system is up to the challenge of these kinds
      of numbers and this kind of meticulous detail?

      JC: Yes, I think so. Not only do they have a very competent election
      commission that has, so far, proven to be fairly well balanced, not
      100 percent, but there are thousands of international observers here
      and more than 10,000 domestic observers that are completely familiar
      with the rules and regulations and nuances of the voting procedure.
      So I think it's going to be a carefully watched and monitored
      election results.

      DE: Do you feel like all of the voters are getting an equal
      opportunity to cast their ballot?

      JC: Well, as you know, the officials in the voting places have to be
      from different parties, at least three different parties. Secondly,
      the party observers that stay inside the voting place all day long
      and the four major parties in all 24 places that we visited this
      morning, four parties were represented so they're watching closely,
      everything that happens. The other thing is that the final
      tabulation is observed just as closely, and both the officials
      representing free parties and the observers have to sign the
      tabulation sheet. So if there is a subsequent question, then the
      tabulation sheet has been certified by everyone observing. So it's a
      much more careful and meticulous process and much more uniform
      throughout the country than anything we've ever seen in the United

      DE: I know that your organization monitors voting in many different

      JC: Yes.

      DE: But with other international groups there in Nicaragua today,
      was there a reason that this particular election is drawing so much
      attention from observers?

      JC: Well, it's not extraordinary. We've held election in Palestine
      three times. We've held elections in Mozambique. We've held
      elections in Liberia. This past week, we monitored the run-off
      election in the Republic of Congo. I would say that's the most
      complex election we've had. We've done two elections in Indonesia,
      the Carter Center has, and at that time, we had 120,000 observers.
      So although there's a lot of interest here, depending on the size of
      Nicaragua and the number of people who are voting, about 3 million,
      I think it's primarily because of the past concern about the
      Sandinistas. And whether they've changed their basic policies or
      whether they'll have success in their election... that still remains
      to be seen.

      DE: What is your opinion on that, do you believe they've changed
      their policies?

      JC: Well no, it's obviously a different rhetoric. Much more
      moderate, as I said earlier, committed to reconciliation and peace.
      Pastel colors. Moderate statements. Commitment not to socialism but
      to free enterprise. I think only time will tell whether those new
      promises will be fulfilled. I can't predict that.

      DE: Mr. President, one final question, if you will. Here in the
      U.S., we have a very hotly contested election on Tuesday that could
      change the balance of power in the Congress. Voters across the
      country are concerned here about the voting process. Some have
      expressed concerns about voting machines and whether they will be
      working, others have accused officials of trying to intimidate
      certain groups of voters. Is there a need for a poll watching system
      of outside observers at U.S. elections?

      JC: As you may know after the 2000 election which was a total
      debacle, President Gerald Ford and I headed a major blue ribbon
      commission and recommended changes in the voting procedures that
      largely were passed by the Congress. And then, after the 2004
      election, which still showed some major problems, former secretary
      of state James Baker and I headed a similar commission and made some
      recommendations, very few of which have yet been implemented.

      But there's no doubt in my mind that the United States electoral
      system is severely troubled and has many faults in it. It would not
      qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center
      in observing. We require for instance that there be uniform voting
      procedures throughout an entire nation. In the United States you've
      got not only fragmented from one state to another but also from one
      county to another. There is no central election commission in the
      United States that can make final judgment. It's a cacophony of
      voices that come in after the election is over with, thousands or
      hundreds of lawyers contending with each other. There's no
      uniformity in the nation at all. There's no doubt that that there's
      severe discrimination against poor people because of the quality of
      voting procedures presented to them. Another thing in the United
      States that we wouldn't permit in a country other than the United
      States is that we require that every candidate in a country in which
      we monitor the elections have equal access to the major news media,
      regardless of how much money they have. In the United States, as you
      know, it's how much advertising you can by on television and radio.
      And so the richest candidates prevail, and unless a candidate can
      raise sometimes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, they
      can't even hope to mount a campaign, so the United States has a very
      inadequate election procedure.

      DE: I think an unprecedented more than $2 billion has been spent on
      advertising this year.

      JC: I would say that neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party
      would consider seriously a candidate to be president who couldn't
      prove in advance that he or she could raise $100 million. That's a
      gross travesty of what democracy ought to be, and I hope that
      someday our nation will change those rules.

      DE: Former president Jimmy Carter, an observer of today's
      presidential election in Nicaragua. Thank you so much for being with
      us, sir.

      JC: I've thoroughly enjoyed talking to you. Thank you very much.
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