After marrying in 2005, Rosario Murillo was the orchestrator of the 2006 campaign that made Mr Ortega, her husband, president. From then onwards, Mrs Murillo has been much more than the Nicaraguan First Lady.
Significantly, she was made her husband’s spokesperson and was designated to run Cabinet meetings. She reshaped her husband’s image and is considered to be the real mastermind behind Ortega’s policies. Effectively, she has been the unofficial co-president of Nicaragua since 2006, well before she was elected to the position of vice-president.
Comparing this role with that of the US First Lady seems very inappropriate when considering her position within her husband’s government. The legitimacy of the role she was given as both an unelected official between 2006 and 2016 and those she has as vice-president seem hardly acceptable. The analysis of the contextual factors surrounding the 2016 Nicaraguan General Election and the couple’s actions after that clearly show that the Ortega-Murillo pair cannot be considered a plausible model for a way of governing, and cannot realistically be compared with any other married couple in modern democracies. Alarmingly, they clearly remind us of a dictatorial political dynasty.
Indeed, the possibility of a married couple leading the country seems justifiable in this context because of the political ability of both. However, this does not seem to be the case in Nicaragua. The situation surrounding their election and their unpopularity with the Nicaraguan public almost preemptively exclude that the reason for their combined election in 2016 was their political ability and consequent popularity. In 2016, the Ortega-Murillo ticket won the election with a 72.44% majority, but this result seems hardly legitimate.
Firstly, the way in which the election was conducted seems suspicious. Although Ortega seemingly allowed unnamed international groups to observe the election, the US State Department released this statement: “In advance of the elections, the Nicaraguan government side-lined opposition candidates for president, limited domestic observation at the polls and access to voting credentials, and took other actions to deny democratic space in the process.”
Moreover, there was visible discontent and opposition from the Nicaraguan people. Graffiti reading “Socialism yes, Chayo, no” have been scattered around Managua since 2006. The term “Chayo” is a popular nickname for women called Rosario. On top of that, their actions in 2018 severely undermined the democratic nature of their rule. In the protests of May 2018, 70 were killed and 800 were injured; in the instance of the couple’s arrival at a seminary in Managua, critics were chanting “Murderer!” – a significant indicator of what a good portion of the population thinks of their rule.
The couple has even been compared to the fictional House of Cards characters Frank and Clair Underwood, famous for being ruthless in their approach to politics.
Ortega and Murillo’s own approach to politics is Machiavellian in the sense that it excludes any chance for a validation and any comparison with other married couples that are involved in politics in most other nations.
Worryingly, the issue of Ortega and Rosario having a stranglehold on power in Nicaragua is worsened by the extension of the power. It goes beyond the mere idea of a couple performing the two most important roles in the country: it echoes the dynastic dictatorial regimes of countries such as North Korea, and facts prove that this is the political model Nicaragua is headed towards.
Indeed, in 2014, President Ortega managed to put enough pressure on the legislature to have the constitution amended to eliminate presidential term limits. Furthermore, the couple and members of their family have been given notable posts within other branches of government such as the legislature, judiciary, national police, army and the media.
This approach seems all too familiar, and undeniably points not to a system of government which other countries should aim for, but to two autocrats laying the foundations to a regime that will destroy the little stability Nicaragua has gained since its brutal civil war.