Elections in Nicaragua Will Be Fair, OAS Says

Despite nagging concerns over the fairness of the upcoming Nicaraguan elections, the vote will be free and democratic, said an official who is observing the campaign.

Speaking before an audience of about 40 people at the Law School yesterday afternoon, Mario Gonzalez, coordinator of the Organization of American States (OAS) team of electoral observers in Nicaragua, said that the level of intimidation and violence that has been reported has not yet impaired the democratic election process.

"The level of intimidation [that has been reported] is still acceptable [and] has not risen above the level of acceptability," Gonzalez said.

But he stressed the need for continued monitoring of all electoral activities within the Central American nation.

"What is most important is that the only thing that can disrupt the democratic process from now until the elections is violence and intimidation," Gonzalez said. "We hope the [current] situation will prevail."

Later this week, OAS will release a report on the electoral process, detailing the results of the observers investigations into complaints surrounding the upcoming election. The charges have included intimidation, violent threats and the sudden withdrawal of candidates, Gonzalez said.

Of the 200 cases of intimidation investigated by OAS. Gonzalez said. "No more than 12 are important complaints."

Gonzalez said reports by the Nicarauguan media of election-related violence last year were also exaggerated. Accusing the country's three major newpapers of inflating death toll figures, the OAS adviser said the stories deter the peaceful election process and called for regulation of the press.

"We must stop inadequate use of the media to stop violence...and define what has to be the role of the press," he said.

Stopping the Press

Gonzalez said that the Nicaraugan government would shut any newspaper down for one to three days, if it repeatedly published what the Supreme Electorial Council, an oversight board involving members of major political parties, considers "irresponisible" reports.

The international observation process, which began last spring, involves "more than 400 observers" charged with monitoring the "ballotcasting and vote-counting phases" during the February 25 elections, he said.

Gonzalez, a Columbian national, said the observers' role in the political process is "unprecedented".

"The observer is part of the process. His very presence there has consequences on the behavior of the parties and the attitude of the citizenry," Gonzalez said.