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NICARAGUA
A third way?
Tim Rogers
7/22/2004
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New political parties hope to break long-standing bi-partisanism.

Minority parties and splinter political groups in Nicaragua are usually as ephemeral as the rains, changing names and colors with each passing election but consistently failing to capture more than a handful of votes before dying of natural causes.

When the ballots are counted at the end of the day, all recent elections have been between the country’s two main caudillos: Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002), of the ruling Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), and Daniel Ortega (1979-90), of the opposition Sandinista National Liberation Front.

But with polls showing growing disenchantment with both traditional parties — and their caudillos — the upcoming municipal elections in November once again have raised old hopes that an outside force might have a chance to make inroads in an entrenched bipartisan system.

Three-horse race

With precious few months left before the municipal elections, two outside political movements are hoping to make the Managua election a three-horse race, or at least establish themselves as real contenders for the 2006 presidential elections.

More than half a dozen minority parties are running candidates in the municipal elections, but the Liberal Independent Party and the Alliance for the Republic are turning heads — one is running Nicaragua’s most famous modern-day war hero as its mayoral candidate for Managua, while the other party has the backing of Nicaragua’s president, Enrique Bolaños.

The two outside parties are approaching the elections with diametrically opposed strategies. The Alliance for the Republic — a coalition of five existing minority parties — is hoping to change Nicaragua’s political culture by running on ideas rather than building a movement around a charismatic figurehead. The Liberal Independent Party, meanwhile, is running former revolutionary hero-turned anti-Sandinista leader Edén "Comandante Cero" Pastora, who appears to be campaigning on his mystique rather than any coherent platform.

"Historical legitimacy"

Pastora captured the world’s fascination in August 1978, when he led a group of 25 Sandinista rebels to capture Managua’s National Palace, taking Congress hostage and managing to negotiate the prison release of revolutionary leaders Daniel Ortega, Humberto Ortega and Tomás Borge. Pastora later defected and became the leader of the southern-front counter-revolutionary fighters, or contras, after concluding that the Ortega brothers had sold out the country to the communists.

Now, at the age of 67, Pastora claims he is tackling politics with the same all-or-nothing approach that gained him fame as a soldier.

"I will definitely win [the election], otherwise I wouldn’t enter," he said.

Pastora has never held a public office and has spent the last decade dabbling as a shark hunter and political pundit for those who will listen.

Aside from being anti-corruption and anti-reelection, Pastora’s platform is undefined. But the charismatic and outspoken Pastora thinks he can win on his cult of personality.

But while Comandante Cero hopes to win on what he calls his "historic legitimacy," the Alliance for Nicaragua has what could be called "incumbent legitimacy."

"Incumbent legitimacy"

In a move unprecedented in Nicaraguan politics, President Bolaños, a member of the PLC, attended the Alliance’s official inauguration in early June and said the movement would help depoliticize state institutions such as the Supreme Court and the Supreme Elections Council by breaking the bipartisan hold on the two institutions.

"This will be the solution to many problems in Nicaragua," Bolaños said, inviting other members of the PLC and other minority political groups to join the movement.

Bolaños, who has been marginalized from his own party for launching an anti-corruption campaign that landed party boss Alemán in jail last year (LP, Dec. 31, 2003), said he would not seek reelection in 2011 as a candidate for the Alliance, which claims it is anti-reelection. Nicaragua’s Constitution bars consecutive re-election.

However, the president’s open invitation for others member of the PLC to join the movement has driven the wedge even deeper into the ruling party and led many Sandinistas to think they have a chance of reclaiming the presidency in 2006.

Ortega announced days after the Alliance’s formation that he intends to run in 2006 for his fourth consecutive presidential bid. His announcement prompted groans from the more progressive elements of the Sandinista movement, who claim it is time for Ortega to pass to torch to a new candidate, namely Managua’s Mayor Herty Lewites, who leads public opinion polls as the favorite potential Sandinista candidate.

Alternative to bipartisan system?

Miguel Lopéz Baldizón, a PLC congressman and president of the Alliance, said his upstart party is trying to form a new political culture in Nicaragua. Baldizón claims his party — an alliance comprised of The Grand Liberal Union, the Conservative Party, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement, the Social Christians and the National Unity Movement — already represents almost 19 percent of voters and seeks to capture 40 percent of the vote by 2006 to win the presidency.

"We are going to target the voters who don’t identify with the Liberals and Sandinistas; the young voters, women and the indigenous," he said.

The new party is still in the process of naming candidates for the municipal vote, but political analysts believe the Alliance is using the municipal elections as a dress rehearsal for the 2006 presidential contest. Even Baldizón admits they don’t expect to win Managua.

Thus far, the Alliance has only defined itself in very broad terms: anti-caudillo, anti-reelection, respect for private property and human rights. Baldizón said that a party platform is in the works and will be released in the near future.

 


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