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NICARAGUA
Sandinistas sitting strong
Tim Rogers
12/2/2004
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Sandinistas control 87 of the country’s 152 municipalities after conservatives split vote.

Following their decisive countrywide victory in the Nov. 7 municipal elections, the Sandinista National Liberation Front is declaring itself the leading political force in Nicaragua, and appears to be well-positioned to reclaim the presidency in 2006.

The former revolutionary movement won the mayor’s seat in Managua and almost every other major city in the country, including several traditionally anti-Sandinista strong holds, such as the conservative bastion of Granada.

Former president Daniel Ortega (1979-1990), the Sandinista’s secretary general and perennial presidential candidate, spoke of the elections in a curious mix of evangelical and revolutionary terms. He referred to the vote both as "a baptism in love and peace," and as "a new July 19, 1979" — the day the Sandinista guerrillas ousted the U.S.-backed Somoza dynasty (1937-1979).

Aided by a ruptured vote among the country’s conservatives — the so-called "democrats," who split their ballots between the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) and the upstart Alliance for the Republic (APRE) of President Enrique Bolaños — the Sandinistas’ disciplined voter base helped them to easily hold on to the mayoral seat in Managua, and picked up an additional 36 municipalities, to finish with 87 of 152 nationwide.

The PLC, which won 94 seats in Nicaragua’s first-ever municipal elections in 2000, lost almost half their incumbent posts to finish with 57. APRE won four, and National Resistance Party (former Contras) won one.

Yatama, the regional indigenous party participating in its first election on the Atlantic coast, won three mayoral posts in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), including Puerto Cabezas, the region’s most populous town.

Nationwide, the Sandinistas won 43.6 percent of the 1.6 million valid-ballot count, followed by the PLC’s 37.4 percent and APRE’s 9.3 percent

The abstention rate in the municipal elections was 44 percent, the highest in the last 14 years.

Post-electoral violence

Despite a relatively smooth election day — complicated slightly by minor complaints of fraud and voters’ names not appearing on registries — the post-electoral atmosphere was marred by the killing of a journalist and the threats of violence over recounts in half a dozen municipalities.

La Prensa

newspaper correspondent María José Bravo, 26, was gunned down at close range Nov. 8 as she exited a hotly contested recount vote in the central city of Juigalpa, Chontales. She died on the way to the hospital.

Eugenio Hernández, a former Contra combatant and ex-PLC mayor of the neighboring municipality of El Ayote, was detained as the primary suspect. Police have yet to determine a motive, and, it was not yet clear if the journalist’s murder was related to the contested recount between the Liberals and the APRE.

Meanwhile, in the historically peaceful city of Granada, riot police were deployed on the streets to deter possible violence from Sandinista supporters who refused to recognize a vote recount that showed their candidate, Alvaro Chamorro, lost to the APRE challenger by 11 votes. The first vote tally in Granada gave the election to the Sandinistas by 26 votes, prompting the recount and the reverse decision.

However, an oversight branch of the Supreme Electoral Commission conducted a third count Nov. 11, and declared the Sandinistas victors by 10 votes, prompting a massive celebration and parade through the streets of Granada.

In the prized Managua race, Sandinista candidate Dionisio "Nicho" Marenco won with 45.6 percent, followed by PLC candidate Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (36 percent), APRE’s Alejandro Fiallos (11 percent), and Liberal Independent Party candidate Edén "Comandante Cero" Pastora, (1.8 percent).

Interpretation of the results

With the vote counts over, the parties have now started their public relations battles over interpretation of the numbers.

Ortega, who campaigned throughout the country for his party, called the victory a strong mandate to govern.

APRE also declared a victory. "Bipartisanism is finished," said defeated APRE candidate Fiallos. "APRE is now positioned as the third force in even the most extreme, remote areas of the country."

While several parties claimed victory, everyone agreed on who the big loser was: incarcerated former president and PLC party boss Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002), serving 20 years for corruption.

"With the vote, people were saying: Mr. Alemán, we don’t want anything to do with you," said political analyst Alejandro Serrano.

Those who remained loyal to Alemán voted PLC, while the more progressive element among the conservatives defected to APRE, allowing the Sandinistas to win the election with their disciplined and unwavering 40 percent of the vote, Serrano said.

What remains to be seen, is if Alemán and those loyal to him will allow the Liberal party to desarnoldizar (as process of the party separating itself from Alemán is referred to in Nicaragua), or if they will continue to sink with the proverbial ship.

"When a candidate or party boss suffers a big defeat, they normally pass the torch to someone else. This happens in every country in the world except for here," Serrano said.

While the Sandinistas got 80,000 more votes than they did in the 2000 municipal elections, political observers note that the 44 percent abstention indicates that nearly half the population is still waiting for something better to come along. If the right-wing opposition can’t get its act together immediately, however, analysts expect Ortega to win the presidency with his 40 percent of the vote in 2006.


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