The Road to the Elections Was Paved with Fraud
November 4, 2001: a huge turnout, a clean and transparent vote count. But these two signs of democracy legitimated a murky, undemocratic process based on exclusion and designed for polarization. There was no fraud during the elections; that happened earlier.
Towards the end of 1997, Nicaraguans began to hear the first rumors and fragmentary bits of news about a pact being forged by Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega. From the very start, it seemed clearly motivated by the overt electoral objectives and covert economic interests of these two men. Their approval ratings were plummeting at the time, along with the popularity of their parties. A number of surveys revealed that some 60% of the population rejected both men and both their parties.
At that time, several initiatives were already underway to forge party alliances that could offer a broad-spectrum "third way" political alternative to the two parties that between them had walked away with over 90% of the 1996 vote. One of the first of these was the Center Group, which emerged in June 1998 and was made up of six parties—the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the Conservative Party (PC), the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the Conservative Popular Alliance (APC) and the Resistance Party. The grouping announced that it would participate in the 2000 municipal elections and the 2001 presidential and legislative elections "under a single banner," but the effort soon faltered. Because of the Conservative Party leadership’s fundamentalist anti-Sandinista stance, the group purged the MRS, evolved into the National Movement, and eventually withered away. There would be others, but none would have a chance to grow due to legal and institutional changes in the electoral system wrought by the pact.
From the beginning, the political philosophy that guided these changes was the exclusion of all other parties in order to impose a two-party system on the country. During the July 1998 Liberal convention, Alemán described the FSLN as the Liberal’s only political rival, pointing to the results of the 1996 elections. He rudely dismissed all other parties as "ghosts that persist like parasitic amoebas in the body of democracy."
FSLN leaders shared this philosophy and expressed similar disdain for smaller parties, also basing their position on the results of the 1996 elections. They used a different argument, however, to justify making constitutional, institutional and legal changes through a pact with Alemán. There was a difference, they explained, between their "social agenda" and their "institutional agenda." Party leaders argued that to bring about the social changes they sought, the Sandinistas had to have a share of power in state institutions, which should be made up of members of the two leading parties.
A series of ad hoc reforms to the Electoral Law made by PLC and FSLN representatives in the National Assembly in 1997 constituted the pact’s first mark on electoral affairs. These reforms, which transformed electoral structures into two-party bodies at all levels, were tested in the March 1998 elections for the Caribbean Coast’s autonomous governments.
There was widespread consensus among Sandinista leaders and grass roots alike on the virtues of this move. People bought the argument that it would "prevent them from stealing the elections again," as though it were proven truth that the FSLN had lost the 1996 presidential elections due to fraud committed by the Liberals with the complicity of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Despite the reforms, however, the FSLN lost the March 1998 elections as well.
Throughout that year, as work on the pact went forward behind closed doors, Alemán’s fiercely anti-Sandinista rhetoric and Ortega’s fiery criticisms of Alemán rang out on public stages, in an ongoing theatrical smokescreen aimed at creating confusion. In October, the devastating emergency provoked by Hurricane Mitch brought a brief hiatus and gave Alemán and Ortega a new argument for "hammering out an agreement." In the wake of the disaster, top International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank representatives were pressuring the two leaders to assure the Consultative Group for Central America, scheduled to meet to discuss emergency aid to the region, that Nicaragua would guarantee "good governance," a catch-all term for democratic participation, effectiveness and transparency. This implied the need for "unity" at a "time of national need," thus giving the pact a new arsenal of rhetoric.
People familiar with the secret bilateral talks being held by the powerful groups around Alemán and Ortega reported that Alemán’s main interest in the constitutional reforms discussed at the outset was to eliminate the article prohibiting consecutive presidential reelection, while Ortega sought to do away with the second electoral round. The result would be elections in which the same two political bosses faced off again, just as in 1996. Despite months of negotiations, neither man managed to achieve his main goal. They did, however, lay the foundations of an increasingly exclusive two-party system that would eliminate all other competition.
In April 1999, Ortega suggested for the first time that he was ready to accept the FSLN candidacy in 2001. "A Sandinista victory in the next elections is inevitable," he added. Two months later, immediately after President Alemán’s return from the Consultative Group meeting in Stockholm, he and Ortega began giving out details of the bilateral negotiations they had previously denied, minimized, covered up with confrontational and ambiguous speeches or written off as rumors and speculations. Ortega said, "I wouldn’t call this a pact, because a pact is when you work with a dictatorship to obtain personal gain, as happened in the past. President Alemán is a democratically elected President with a civilian government. Alemán is not Somoza." Alemán responded in kind: "Ortega has evolved enormously. He’s a reasonable man." The pact was sealed.
One big item on the negotiating table was the idea of holding elections for a constituent assembly in 2001 instead of general elections. Alemán kept this idea alive until after the municipal elections in November 2000 as another way to assure early reelection. In the FSLN as well, there were times when Ortega and other leaders defended the idea.
Although Danielistas and non-Danielistas diverged on some issues, the whole FSLN agreed on the "political heart" of the pact. They insisted that the FSLN had the right to quotas of institutional power as the country’s second strongest electoral force, and that, to arrange this, positions in the branches of government and public institutions should be divvied up proportionally in accord with the election results. In appointing officials to top government posts, party loyalties would matter more than professional qualifications.
The pact’s contentsThe items on the pact menu were first cooked up in secret and later served to the Nicaraguan people with the appropriate garnish. Where necessary, they were then passed to the National Assembly, where the respective benches of the parties to the pact had already received orders to turn them into law. On the night of August 17, 1999, 33 agreements reached in the pact were made public. All aimed to consolidate a two-party system with their strongmen in charge. All aimed to reinforce the power of these two men, plastering over the weaknesses revealed within the two negotiating groups as each failed to impose its interests on the other. No one and nothing could stop or even modify the pact—not the criticisms within the FSLN, not the cries of alarm from many sectors of society, not the sensible media voices, not the public opinion surveys, not the timid warnings of some members of the international community.
A good number of these changes required alterations to legislation of a rank requiring more votes than each bench had alone or could acquire from the handful of independents. A strong motivation for the negotiations between the two parties, then, was precisely that they needed each other to accomplish what each wanted, and they wanted enough of the same things to stomach engaging in negotiations over their diverging desires.
The first change was to establish the pact’s two-party system within all state institutions. In doing so, it further bloated a state bureaucracy already staggering under the weight of top officials earning outlandish salaries, causing a significant budget hike. The number of magistrates in the CSE increased from 5 to 7, in the Supreme Court from 12 to 16 and in the Comptroller General’s Office from 1 to 5.
A second important change brought about by the pact was the rewriting of the Electoral Law, among other things incorporating the ad hoc reforms made in 1997 before the elections on the Caribbean Coast. In December 1995, an alliance of party splinters had quickly pushed significant reforms to the law through the National Assembly in time to govern the 1996 elections. But the haste had allowed imprecise language, myopic thinking and short-term political interests to slip through. The serious concerns that these deficiencies had provoked in the CSE leadership about the possibility of guaranteeing the quality of the fast-approaching 1996 elections led then-CSE president Mariano Fiallos to resign. The main criticism was that the CSE had been stripped of its power to directly name election officials based on purely technical, professional criteria, and obliged it instead to select them from lists presented by political parties. This politicizing of the electoral branch’s personnel to the detriment of professionalism was in fact the main contributing factor to the chaos and lack of transparency in the elections that year. Another problem was that the law’s encouragement of pluralism led to further splintering of par-ties: 23 presidential candidates competed in those elections.
In rewriting the law, however, the pact only made it worse. The politicization of the electoral structures became two-party polarization, and the excessive pluralism was transformed into a bipartisan straightjacket. In describing these new changes, Fiallos said, "The law needed in-depth reforms, but none of these are. All aim only to establish prohibitions and grant permissions." As an international study financed by the Swedish government concluded, the new electoral law "weakens democracy" because it is designed to "limit any competition that might affect the shared hegemony of the parties to the pact."
The law now works against decentralization, municipal autonomy and the emergence of local leaders by eliminating the provision permitting local associations to run municipal government candidates. It works against pluralism by establishing virtually insurmountable obstacles to the formation of new political parties, the survival of existing ones or the creation of alliances among them. It works against representative democracy in society and democratization within parties by barring the possibility of directly electing legislators, forcing candidates to run only on the slates drawn up by the recognized political parties, with their pre-selected order of hierarchy. And though it did not abolish the second round as Ortega wanted, it did reduce the percentage needed to win on the first round from 45% to 40%, and even to 35% if the second place party wins no more than 30%.
The third important change brought about by the pact was a set of constitutional reforms. One now permits Nicaraguan citizens to establish dual nationality with any other country, a measure designed to favor a few individuals who at the time seemed prospective PLC presidential candidates, including founder José Antonio Alvarado (later expelled for his dissidence to Alemán). Another requires a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly to suspend presidential immunity, a measure intended to protect both Alemán and Ortega, who have hidden behind their immunity to avoid answering for their crimes.
The most controversial of the constitutional reforms was an FSLN "thank you" gift to Alemán for lowering the percentage needed to win elections on the first round: as outgoing President he will have a lifetime seat in the National Assembly without ever having to be elected. This concession also appeared to be the FSLN’s way of "consoling" Alemán for not getting his way on the issue of consecutive reelection. Sandinista representative Bayardo Arce justified it by saying, "This way, he owes us one." It should not escape notice, however, that this same stipulation will also apply to future Presidents unless repealed.
The pact also divided the capital city of Managua into three municipalities, a controversial decision criticized by many in the FSLN, including Carlos Guadamuz, then owner of the popular Sandinista station Radio Ya. The growing crisis that the pact triggered within the FSLN was aggravated in December 1999 by the illegal occupation of Radio Ya to wrest it away from Guadamuz, who was expelled from the party at the same time for speaking out against the division of Managua. On that occasion, an FSLN statement threatened to sanction Sandinistas who criticized the pact, which it described as an "enormous, patriotic task."
The pact is consummatedOn January 18, 2000, in a session that lasted barely three hours, 70 of the 93 National Assembly representatives approved these and other reforms to the Constitution and the electoral law with little debate. Only 4 FSLN representatives voted against them, and several months later, the FSLN punished them by banishing them from its next electoral slate. This consummation of the pact marked the end of the formal democratic transition that began, amidst so many limitations, after the FSLN’s electoral defeat, the end of the war and the beginning of the Chamorro government in 1990.
The personal animus behind many of the changes approved in the pact was clear in the first steps taken to implement it. Throughout the negotiations, Ortega had repeatedly demanded the head of CSE president Rosa Marina Zelaya, whom he blamed for the alleged fraud preventing his election in 1996. Zelaya was indeed replaced as president by Roberto Rivas on February 4, 2000, and was unconstitutionally removed from the CSE altogether on July 3, a year before her term ended. In exchange, President Alemán asked for the head of Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín, who was trying to investigate his illicit enrichment. First, Jarquín was imprisoned for six weeks in November-December 1999 on charges cooked up by Alemán and endorsed by Ortega, then, like Zelaya, was shoved out of his post as head of the institution. He finally quit in July 2000, after watching the politicized new collegial leadership body resulting from the pact besmirch the integrity of the office he had built. People were perplexed to hear that, soon after leaving, Jarquín began discussing the possibility of an electoral alliance with Ortega. He later joined the presidential ticket as Ortega’s running mate, despite having told envío in July 2000, "I don’t see myself as Daniel Ortega’s running mate, not because I have anything personal against him, but simply because that ticket has no possibility of winning."
The changes in the Comptroller’s Office, previously considered the only bulwark against the Alemán government’s institutionalized corruption and impunity, caused the greatest concern in the international community, whose financial cooperation—particularly following Hurricane Mitch—was all that was keeping the Nicaraguan economy more or less afloat. To illustrate its disapproval as well as distance itself from the anti-democratic new electoral law, the international community decided not to help finance last year’s municipal elections.
The making and breaking of With the two-party framework in place, predictions were that the new electoral law would reduce the 23 parties and alliances that had participated in the 1996 elections to 5 or 10 at the most. New political options were born, grew and were then snuffed out leading up to the municipal elections in November 2000. Some of them were strictly a survival tactic, and involved very strange bedfellows indeed. At the beginning of the year, bankers Haroldo Montealegre and Álvaro Robelo joined forces under the banner of a party they called Up with the Republic (formerly Up with Nicaragua). They proposed dollarizing the economy, suppressing customs and establishing English as the official second language, yet allied with the FUAC, a leftist rearmed group, and sought support from Libya. The evangelical Christian Way party welcomed Sandinista Guadamuz and even made him its mayoral candidate for Managua, while a new evangelical party called the Christian Unity Movement arose. Conservatives Noel Vidaurre and Pedro Solórzano allied with the Independent Liberal Party and a group of Social Democrats under the Conservative banner…
alternatives for the municipal elections
In the midst of all this reshuffling and realigning, one of the most promising developments was the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), a third-way alliance—or more exactly, electoral tool—that brought together eight political organizations and figures from center-right to center-left, including the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The member parties decided to join forces under the banner and name of the pre-existing MDN, renouncing their own legal status to form a new group "willing to lose as parties in order to win as a nation." Such self-sacrifice was a potentially suicidal but noble and clever way to sidestep some of the onerous conditions imposed by the new electoral law on parties forming alliances. On such requirement, for example, was that an alliance had to get, for every party in it, an exact multiple of the signatures required to register a single party (itself based on 3% of the electoral rolls), and was given a very short time to do it. The new law did not specify whether those signing had to be registered voters, whether they could sign more than one petition, etc. Such details, it was soon discovered, would be decided at CSE discretion.
In April 2000, with the country feeling a palpable vacuum of good governance, Ortega and Alemán proposed a "national dialogue" that would include all the parties and sectors effectively excluded through their pact. This was a purported effort by the two party bosses to achieve the appearance of governance, but the ambiguous initiative lasted barely ten days. The MDN and the Conservative Party put down three conditions, including yet another reform of the electoral law that several other groups then echoed. FSLN and PLC leaders responded that the law could not be changed because doing so would mean postponing the elections. This created an impenetrable vicious circle: if elections were held, the other parties would be excluded, and if exclusion were eliminated, there would be no elections. Surveys continued to show 60% of the population supporting neither the PLC nor the FSLN, neither Alemán nor Ortega.
For the first few months of 2000, Alemán obstinately clung to the idea of holding municipal and general elections at the same time and turning the latter into elections for a constituent assembly. Pressure from the international community, however, ensured respect for the electoral calendar: municipal elections would be held in November 2000 and presidential and legislative elections in November 2001.
The path to the municipal elections was strewn with the wreckage of all the alternatives to the two-party system destroyed along the way by an array of political maneuvers, legal procedures and administrative traps. The first alternative brought down was the most attractive, the MDN alliance. In May 2000, after having passed the test of presenting 86,000 signatures of support and duly registering its mayoral candidates in all of the country’s municipalities, the coalition was undone by pressure and maneuvers from Alemán and the FSLN. The anti-Sandinista Conservative Party (PC) enthusiastically collaborated by persuading 15 leaders of the original MDN party to break the signed agreements with the pluralist coalition and align with it instead. What was left of the "third way" then decided to run in the municipal elections under the MRS banner and proposed Dora María Téllez as its candidate for mayor of Managua.
Under the new law, not only new parties and alliances had to present a petition with the requisite number of signatures, but existing ones as well, after which their legal status would be retained by participating in all elections and winning at least 4% of the vote. When several parties managed to surmount the signature obstacle, the CSE created another one: a computerized procedure to verify the signatures. The CSE conducted this procedure with no transparency whatever and announced on July 18, with riot police surrounding their offices, that six national parties and alliances had been dropped from the municipal elections for failure to get enough valid signatures. Only the FSLN, PLC, PC and Christian Way remained. When the Group of Five plus Japan informed the CSE of their "concern" over the political consequences of the signature verification process, the CSE replied that it was an issue of "national sovereignty."
On August 29, the CSE unanimously voted to reject all appeals presented by excluded political parties and alliances. Since the electoral law established that failure to participate automatically signified loss of legal status, the CSE resolved that same day to cancel the legal recognition of 26 political parties.
"The verification process was the first electronic fraud committed in Nicaragua, and what began with fraud will end with fraud," declared Dora María Téllez, who filed suit in the Managua Appeals Court claiming the CSE magistrates illegally annulled the MRS’s participation and cancelled its legal status. "Given this situation, all that is left to do is to reverse the whole electoral process." The court never responded to her suit.
The new electoral law, while eliminating the right even of local associations in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS) to run candidates for municipal and regional government, it did make an exception in those areas by permitting regional parties, and two such parties—PAMUC and PIM—survived the July guillotine. In September, however, the CSE announced that YATAMA, a once-strong Miskito organization that had participated in all elections in both the RAAN and RAAS since 1990, had not qualified for switching from an association to a party by not filing on time. YATAMA sympathizers described the CSE’s decision as "a declaration of war against the indigenous people," and threatened that the municipal elections would not be held on the Coast. In fact, the days leading up to the elections in the RAAN were rife with violence and over 65% of voters abstained on election day.
Given the CSE’s recent displays of abusive discretion for political purposes, analysts were quick to conclude that this had been a maneuver by FSLN magistrates to eliminate competition in the RAAN, but it did not hold up to scrutiny. YATAMA’s vote had been so depleted by its own internal strife that it posed less competition to national contenders than PAMUC in the north or PIM in the south. Furthermore, while it had filed all the paperwork and signatures required, apparently satisfactorily since the CSE did not reject them, it had in fact missed the deadline by a few weeks, leaving itself vulnerable. The proof would come in 2001, since YATAMA’s status as an indigenous organization was still valid and could not be revoked for failure to participate in the elections since such organizations were no longer eligible. Both the letter and the spirit of the law thus permitted the CSE to accept YATAMA’s application as if it were new and filed for the general elections--with time to spare. In fact, YATAMA did run coast delegates to the National Assembly this year as a regional party, pulling well under 1% of the vote.
The municipal elections on November 5, 2000, put to the test both the transformation of the two-party electoral branch structures and voters’ willingness to accept the two-party straightjacket designed by the pact. The skill and cunning of the FSLN’s electoral officials, observers and activists proved greater than the PLC’s, and the municipal elections took a regrettable turn when the PLC delayed release of the results by refusing to accept results favorable to the FSLN, its erstwhile pact mate, in some strategic municipalities. Contrary to Daniel Ortega in 1990, President Alemán demonstrated his incapacity to lose gracefully. The scattered fraudulent acts committed by both FSLN electoral commandos and PLC activists on election day as well as the negotiations between the PLC and the FSLN before publishing the preliminary results revealed the dangerous nature of their pact. They unite to exclude, but remain rivals to the end.
The PLC was the quantitative winner of the municipal elections, as it won more governments and a larger number of votes overall, especially in rural areas. The FSLN did qualitatively better, however, by winning Managua and 11 of the 17 departmental seats. Abstention also scored big, topping 40%. The results were interpreted as a "technical tie" and left the country divided and extremely polarized, precisely one of the pact’s goals.
Domestic and international criticisms of the new electoral law grew louder after those elections, once its limits and dangers had become clearer. In late December, the Carter Center described the law as "closed off and excluding." Since its report coincided with the electoral crisis in the United States, however, it received little attention and both PLC and FSLN leaders dismissed the criticism.
Setting their sites on 2001Twelve hours after the announcement that FSLN candidate Herty Lewites had won Managua, Daniel Ortega announced that he would indeed run again in 2001. This irresponsible willfulness, added to the FSLN’s triumphant arrogance as it celebrated its victories in several departmental seats, frightened the business class, the political class and the general voting public. This fear in turn was decisive in determining the course of the presidential election process from that point on.
The results of the municipal elections put an end to talk of a constituent assembly. Foreseeing that the presidential race would be very close, the wealthy Pellas family agreed to switch its financial backing from the trailing Conservative party (PC) to the PLC if Alemán would accept Enrique Bolaños as the presidential candidate. The PLC, in turn, sought a pact with the now fund-dry PC against the FSLN, but to no avail; the PC’s only draw was its anti-pact stance. The FSLN, still riding high from its municipal victories, prepped its 30,000 election commandos for the new battle.
Even as the two parties to the pact were girding their loins for the presidential jousting match, they still shared one crucial objective: to prevent the formation of a viable, attractive third alternative. Both thus set out to prevent the PC from providing a slot for a "third way" alliance.
Both also used anti-democratic methods to select their National Assembly candidates. Alemán picked the PLC slate of representatives in a sham of a congress in January, while the election of FSLN candidates through a primary "consultation" the following month turned out fraudulent and full of anomalies, according to charges by many Sandinistas themselves.
In June and July 2000, two more attempts had been launched to form new political parties to compete in the 2001 elections. Recently retired army chief Joaquín Cuadra sought to attract non-Danielista Sandinistas to a new center-left project called the National Unity Movement while the well-liked José Antonio Alvarado, three times minister in the Alemán government, announced the creation of the Liberal Movement for Change within the PLC to attract non-Alemanista liberals. When that quickly terminated in his expulsion from the PLC, he set out to form the Democratic Liberal Party.
On August 14, both Alvarado and Cuadra presented the CSE with all the documentation required by law to register their parties and run in the presidential elections. Two months later, the CSE used legal sophistry to deny the Democratic Liberal Party its legal recognition, and three months after that used other kinds of sophistry to block the National Unity Movement. Pro-Ortega Sandinistas rejoiced as much in the elimination of Cuadra’s attempt as pro-Alemán Liberals did the elimination of Alvarado’s. The two-party system was being imposed with an increasingly strong arm.
Meanwhile, since the PC—the only surviving competitor in the elections— planned to run Pedro Solórzano, a truly popular, competitive and probable winning candidate, for mayor of Managua, the CSE disqualified him on August 8 through a maneuver worthy of the history books. In dividing Managua into three municipalities, it so gerrymandered the maps that the borders of the municipality of Managua passed right around Solórzano’s backyard, making him a resident of the new municipality of El Crucero—where Alemán reigns supreme—and thus preventing him from running as a Managua candidate. Neither justified allegations regarding illegal retroactivity nor street protests nor the opinions of experts in electoral law prevented the CSE from barring Solórzano. In so doing, the two-party CSE guaranteed the victory of either the PLC or FSLN candidate.
Several attempts were made to get the PC to open up its slot to a "third way" alliance. The possibility that Violeta Chamorro would head up the PC ticket was floated in January and February 2001. Before declining, she urged the PC to offer its slot "in an act of patriotic generosity, without any conditions, to achieve a great anti-pact union," implying that this would give her a reason to accept the offer to run again. While a survey by IDESO-UCA in February showed that she would have won had the elections been held at that time, the PC gave her no signs of such "patriotic generosity."
The possibility of a broad-based alliance under its banner failed because the PC was anti-Sandinista and politically short-sighted and because both the PLC and the FSLN made calculated efforts to ensure that it would not happen. When PC leader and second-choice presidential candidate Noel Vidaurre selected José Antonio Alvarado as his running mate, Alemán gave the order to bar Alvarado from running, alleging that he had not followed the correct procedure in recovering his nationality. This allegation was even more brazenly cynical than the excuse the CSE had used earlier to deny Alvarado’s Democratic Liberal Party its legal status. Alemán himself had named Alvarado to head three successive ministries—government; education, family and sports; and finally defense—posts only Nicaraguan citizens can hold.
The CSE took two weeks to rule on the order to bar Alvarado, during which he staged a day and night sit-in outside the CSE offices, graciously acknowledging the support many people stopped by to offer. The case dragged on so long because the three FSLN magistrates decided to boycott sessions to prevent a quorum. The FSLN’s goal was not so much to defend Alvarado as to legitimate itself before national and international public opinion as a "defender of institutionality and pluralism." After that fiasco, the international community pressured the Liberal and Sandinista magistrates to agree not to break quorum again, under any circumstance.
Disaffected voters were briefly invigorated by one last spark of hope for an anti-pact, pluralistic alternative when Vidaurre next chose Sandinista (but not FSLN) educator Carlos Tünnermann as his running mate. But once again, a conspiracy cooked up by Liberals and Sandinistas involved persuading an anti-Sandinista sector of the PC to torpedo this ticket, which might just have had a chance. By then, the internal struggles encouraged from within and from without had pulled the PC apart.
On July 18, Tünnermann resigned, disillusioned by the anti-Sandinista myopia and broken promises, and Vidaurre followed suit, some say under pressure from US diplomats to give Bolaños clear sailing against the feared FSLN. With that, the possibility of anything resembling a third-way anti-pact electoral alternative died. The PC, which remained on the ballot, had become an irrelevant option with colorless businessman Alberto Saborío as its third-choice presidential candidate. The two-party track was firmly laid, leaving the Nicaraguan electorate, with its fears, its wisdom, its abundance of pragmatism and only a few small hopes, no choice but to move along it.