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  Number 180 | Julio 1996
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Nicaragua

All Electoral Horses Now at the Starting Gate

The politicians seem to have planned their strategy, though a good part of the electorate has still not taken a stand. The role of civic groups and direct control by citizens at the local level become key factors in the still uncertain electoral process.

Nitlápan-Envío team

The twice postponed deadline for registering parties, alliances and candi dates for the October electoral race has finally come and gone. At the close of May 28, Nicaragua found itself with no less than two dozen presidential candidates. After days of feverish last minute jockeying for position, a few of the nearly three dozen splinter parties had fallen apart, new ones had emerged, and some had managed to reunite or form somewhat surprising alliances, as others ran fruitlessly from one end of the political spectrum to the other seeking like minded parties or at least ones that wouldn't reject them.

When the dust settled, 19 parties had registered their own candidates, and 14 more had found a place in one of the five alliances. In addition, 47 popular petition associations put up candidates for mayor in a number of municipalities.

Although the starting gate is extremely wide and the line up variegated and confusing, the polarization between the two front runners Liberals and Sandinistas is still a clear campaign trend after the ultimate failure to forge a center bloc. The intense rivalry between these two participants "obliges" the others to take stronger positions than they might like. The "with me or against me" logic has been strengthened, despite the constant declarations of stability and reconciliation made by all. Be that as it may, the politicians have now all marked their racing form and, for better or worse, will spend the next five months trying to convince the electorate of the advantages of betting on their horse.

Betters in a Quandary

The unprecedented array of unknown and/or untested presidential candidates has left many potential voters unsure of what to do. In all polls done before the final registration, the FSLN's Daniel Ortega and the Liberal Alliance's Arnoldo Alemán consistently pulled about 60% between them (occasionally going as low as 50% and as high as 70%), while all other suggested candidates combined only got 10 15%. The resulting high of 40% undecided leaves the electoral outcome still up in the air, though this should begin to change as future polls reflect the final list of candidates.

Shifting to another sporting metaphor, only these two political forces can be classified as "heavyweights," if measured by garnering over 20% of the electorate's stated voting preferences: the FSLN, which averages around 23% but in some polls goes as high as 30%, is the only single party and the Liberal Alliance is the only alliance (see box on p.5 for its list of parties). All the rest weigh in as "flyweights" (1 10% of the vote) or "weightless" (under 1%).

Alongside the solid voter blocs for the two main options, clear reservations toward the political class and its options for president as a whole can be perceived both in the well off minority and among the grassroots majorities. It is not a strange attitude in a population that, three months before the formal opening of the campaign, has already seen enough to feed its political disillusionment. This skepticism is fully justified by the meteoric enrichment of high level public officials, a political and judicial system undermined by corruption and still fragile democratic institutions.

These circumstances raise many questions beyond the candidate line up. What kind of arrangement might emerge among the political forces? What are the underlying strategies in conflict? How great is the possibility of a second round of voting in the presidential election? Will the business interests be able to keep the diverse electoral options under control or will they settle for the traditional indirect relations of influence? As for the grassroots sectors, will they push for change or passively contemplate the politicians battling out their own agendas?

Liberal Alliance: "We'll Take It All"

With its unbudging stance that "the line forms behind me," Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), the fulcrum of the Liberal Alliance, closed the possibility of allies beyond three of the five other Liberal parties, a small independent party, several party splinters and myriad individuals interested in post electoral patronage. That and its demand for unconditional adherence even provoked a split in the otherwise flyweight Independent Liberal Party (PLI): the bulk of the party stayed with its presidential candidate Virgilio Godoy, while a sector led by Wilfredo Navarro joined Alemán. The only party splinter to actually justify joining the Liberal Alliance was José Castillo Osejo's fraction of the Conservative National Party. It joined the Liberals, according to a public declaration, because it was "worried about the dispersion of the democratic vote, a product of the proliferation of candidacies, which could endanger the important accomplishments attained...."

The Liberal Alliance is determined to win the presidency in the first round, for which it needs 45% of the valid vote. On May 14, Alemán delivered a heated speech welcoming Navarro's sector of the PLI, in which he claimed that "we'll not only win in the first round, we'll fill the executive, the parliament and the mayors' offices to the brim!"

The proposal for radical change in such a sweeping triumph of the Alliance is tainted with visceral anti Sandinista sentiments, pragmatically tempered so as not to spook the development of the electoral process further or strengthen the Liberals' image as destabilizers that not only the FSLN but almost all other party adversaries are promoting as well.

Although the Liberal Alliance is clearly a force on the right, Alemán's deep roots in the popular base cause the country's financial and commercial oligarchy, so divorced from the people, to distrust him. The Liberals' support base is also broad among middle and professional sectors. The biggest shadow hanging over the Alliance's head is its association with Nicaraguan capital in Miami, largely of Somocista origins, and with the still more powerful and murky Cuban American capital there.

Alemán's strategy is to leave a channel open to the national business class, which was why he chose well known businessman Enrique "Churruco" Bolaños, former president of the business umbrella organization COSEP, as his running mate. Even more symptomatic is that both Bolaños and the Alliance's new campaign chief, Jaime Morales Carazo, had properties confiscated by the Sandinista government. It is symbolic that the house in which FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega lives is being claimed by Morales Carazo's wife, its former owner.

The Alliance's clear message to the FSLN leadership is that those who do not have their properties sorted out or who have committed ostentatious abuses will be "punished." This explicit or implicit promise of punishment is largely what binds together the anti Sandinista base of Alemán's liberalism.

But what constitutes an internal strength for the Liberals is the very thing that so concerns a business class that has benefitted from the co government of these years and from the alliances between the new capital of the Sandinistas and of PRONAL candidate Antonio Lacayo's backers. This new capital would be very affected by another political fight to reverse all that has been done in the past six years. Not even the other sectors of the business class want things reversed; their objective is just to distribute the benefits more evenly among them. To do this, traditional capital, which speaks so strongly of reconciliation, wants a firm agreement not to rock the boat too much. Many business sectors see the Liberals' promise of punishment and their constant reference to "radical change" as today's greatest threat to stability, since it would end up affecting their own interests.

This threat is obviously not mere presumption. The new capital that grew in the shadow of the FSLN's political machinery holds the country's political stability under permanent blackmail in which the payoff is not touching its privileges, its spaces of influence or its leaders' holdings.

FSLN: Alone but Strong

The FSLN, whose position has been climbing slightly in recent polls, is going into the first round of elections alone. The party that led the anti Somoza insurrection and hegemonized a revolution that generated great hope around the world, has been mutating. Broad segments of its leadership have turned into a new business grouping. Within a strategy aimed at broadening its electoral base and above all strengthening a new image of stability, the FSLN opted to seek its vice presidential candidate among the producers of COSEP. It chose and was accepted by cattleman Juan Manuel Caldera, confiscated early in the revolution.

The FSLN has proposed a "productivist" reactivation program, trying to capitalize on the discontent of agricultural producers, particularly those with debt arrears or with no access to credit. The party strategists have clearly identified these hard up business sectors as one quarry of unmined votes. In the 1980s, the FSLN maintained a strategy of currying the political favor of the "homespun agrarian bourgeoisie" with tax exemptions and economic privileges. That was a large part of why the FSLN did not carry out an in depth agrarian reform in favor of the peasants, but did try to win over farmers and large producers with "cheap" credit policies and repeatedly pardoning their debt arrears.

FSLN National Directorate member Mónica Baltodano, a candidate for the National Assembly, declared that "the stage of internal discussions is now closed so that we can assume disciplined leadership." The chief expression of those debates was the defeat of human rights defender Vilma Núñez's presidential candidacy in the party congress held in May. Núñez represented the aspirations of a broad segment of Sandinistas who are looking for a change of both image and reality in the red and black party, and a return to that original mystique that infused generations of anti Somoza fighters with so much respect.

With those discussions now formally over, the FSLN is turning all its powerful machinery including important print, radio and TV media on the elections. The normal functioning of the FSLN leadership structures is "in recess" so that the leaders can dedicate all their efforts to the "strategic objective" of winning the elections. Baltodano has been put in charge of mobilizing the FSLN's more than 350,000 members around the country.

As an organization, the FSLN has dedicated a good part of its efforts to keeping its social base together in the past six years, despite the changes in the nature and orientation of its political leadership, since that leadership still needs its experienced political and organizational machinery to hold on to important quotas of power on the political game board. The party's current electoral moves are erratic and for effect, which leaves large capital unwilling to trust it.

Without a doubt, the spector of the FSLN's formidable enemy Alemán, together with the rivalry, struggle, creativity, improvisation and controversy in the electoral campaign as a whole, will spark new energy and greater cohesion in the Sandinista grassroots, who still sincerely expect good things from their historic leaders. These people, and there are a lot of them, are unquestionably one of Nicaragua's greatest moral reserves today. Despite their suffering, they are committed. They are also capable of guaranteeing reconciliation and stability.

Goodbye to the "Center"

The possibility of a major "centrist" alliance evaporated after a week of last minute negotiations in which none of the 10 parties participating could agree on who the candidate should be, even though it was obvious that none of them, even the best organized, has a chance alone in the elections against the big two. They could even disappear if they don't get a specific number of votes that would give them at least one legislative representative.

Nonetheless, the significant differences of interest and the personalism of some of their leaders tripped up the possibility of a broad alliance with a real chance to win. The essential obstacle to their inability to unite is that the viable alliances are debating the dilemma of either going with a continuist stabilizing orientation or a rupture change one.

The alliance "without principles," based purely on building a geographic rather than ideological center was chimeric. To be clear, this was not because the lack of principles made many of the participants uncomfortable, but because no one really represented a sizable sector nationally. Without representation and without a sufficiently charismatic candidate to convince the other contenders that he/she could attract the support of a nucleus, the center project also lacked the support of the business class. And it appealed to the grassroots sectors even less, such that its effort went unnoticed.

Three of the flyweights in this alliance building attempt, however, deserve mention for their style and organizational presence: the Sandinistas in the MRS, Antonio Lacayo's PRONAL and the PNC conservatives of Noel Vidaurre. All three have shown themselves to be well structured at a national level, with regular electoral activity in most municipalities, and table watchers at all the voting stations for voter registration. Nonetheless, none of the three gets more than 2 4% among those polled who plan to vote, and in the case of PRONAL and Alvaro Robelo's Arriba Nicaragua (now Nicaraguan Alliance) even that support seems to be dropping.

With the failure of the "center," the possibility of building a stabilizing and continuist option that large national and foreign capital could swallow was dropped from the agenda. Before giving the effort up, however, both PRONAL and Arriba Nicaragua now dead, but resurrected like Lazarus, as Robelo quipped tried to climb to the pinnacle of the center options with greater business support. PRONAL used its influence in the current government, and Arriba Nicaragua its links with foreign capital some of dubious origins.

PRONAL got burned by Lacayo's obstinate determination to run for president despite the constitutional inhibitions. Lacayo also suffers from the lukewarm support of officials in the outgoing administration, most of whom are looking to land on their feet when "things change" in 1997.

In the case of Arriba Nicaragua, the international scandal involving its presidential candidate Alvaro Robelo, led to his being purged from his own party. The party itself then fell apart just as its excellent propaganda had created an attractive image. The mystery surrounding this businessman politician diplomat banker has taken on increasingly religious tones after the scandal broke in May. "I have come through [this crisis] and it is something almost miraculous and prophetic. I feel that someone is guiding me, that I'm a missionary who has the mission of redeeming the people...."
At this point, neither Lacayo nor Robelo seem to be the ones who will guarantee the basic continuity of the accumulation model inaugurated in the 1990s. Robelo expresses more clearly than any other candidate the need to guarantee the interests of large international capital, without excluding the other business sectors and promising a more effective social compensation policy than the current one. Lacayo's formula is weaker and much less convincing, especially since he personally represents the continuation of exclusion, unscrupulous ambition and the discretionary privileges of the new and traditional sectors of large capital.

Robelo expresses the longing of a good part of the business class and of ample grassroots sectors to lower the tone of conflict so that the economy can have some room to recover. This implies a more integral policy and greater social sensitivity, in which the benefits are shared out more widely. To a certain degree various recent political initiatives such as the "minimum agenda" and the "commitment to Nicaragua," as well as the public positions of the Catholic bishops, reflect this general awareness of Nicaragua's need to shift from a savage and predatory capitalism to one with a human and Christian face that solidly guarantees all property rights and the conditions of a truly democratic market in which the private initiatives of all can flourish after being deprived of opportunities in recent years.

The Rightwing Menu

Although the far left is offering a few tiny options, the real choices being offered to the Nicaraguan electorate are moving from center to right. The combined popularity of the leftwing micro parties and all the self defined "centrist" options do not go beyond 7% in the polls. Most of these forces have very local organizational structures, based either in the capital or in specific rural zones.

The majority of candidates range from center right to right, and lack a national presence. Two of them are alive only in media images: Alvaro Robelo's Nicaraguan Alliance had a very successful radio and TV campaign between January and April (under its earlier name), and Haroldo Montealegre's PUL lives through his newspaper La Tribuna.

A number of the political groupings have noteworthy ties with private commercial banks PUL with Banco Mercantil, Bread and Strength (Pan y Fuerza) with the Banco del Cafe are the most obvious but this has not led them to a convergence of interests. It is likely that personalism and the problems associated with the probity of their sources of electoral funds have also contributed to keeping these parties apart.

The Dilemmas of the Business Circles

The country's main political forces have wooed the business circles with greater or lesser success, trying to pull non political business leaders into their presidential tickets. This bowing and scraping to capital seems less an indication that business leaders are turning to politics, as some interpret, than that these leaders do not find their interests adequately represented in the current party line up. With the existing options engendering very little confidence, some businessmen have agreed to run for vice president on various tickets: the FSLN, UNO 96, PRONAL and Nicaraguan Alliance. Their seeming objective is to more directly influence the economic policies.

The business sector has obviously benefited greatly from the current economic policies and wants this to continue. But the benefits in the current administration have not spread very evenly, nor have they come within the design of a clear policy for the business class as a whole. Far and away the most privileged during these years has been a fraction of banking and commercial industrial capital, since the state is conceived of as a treasure chest for the usufruct of the political force that succeeds in controlling it.

As long as this situation lasts, business as a whole cannot be sure that the benefits will last or will be sufficient. There is growing awareness that the period of extraordinary earnings must come to an end and be controlled through clear and more equitable rules of the game for the different fractions of local capital. Achieving this objective is what will make the viable and stable guarantee of dominion by the business class possible. The more voracious and scheming fractions of the politicized business class should be contained and disciplined to the logic of capital through a clear state policy. The state as treasure chest must disappear and make way for a state ruled by law that will bring stability.

The "Adjustment" Will Adjust Them

The posture of the international financial institutions turning a blind eye to the inadequate administration of aid programs and concessionary loans cannot go on much longer either. Despite government efficiency in applying structural adjustment measures and creating market conditions, these agencies have begrudgingly continued providing aid for political reasons. But they are expecting a behavioral change from the next government, to which they will apply the rigors that they spared the Chamorro government.

A moderately basic application of the adjustment program first implies a serious limitation on corruption in the state apparatus and subjecting such big companies as Flor de Caña rum, Toña and Victoria beer and the dairy industries to outside competition. It means simplifying the tax system and improving the real exchange rate. The reform route implies many costs for these sectors in taxes and duties and in their ease of access to the mechanisms of power. In few words, the basis of the privileges of the most predatory of old and new capital would be altered sooner or later with a genuine structural adjustment program. The problem is that everyone wants things to improve, but no one wants to make the sacrifice necessary for it to happen. "Others" are encouraged to sacrifice, but no one takes the first step.

All this explains why the business ranks with very conflicting interests between the privileged winners in the current administration and the "levelers" who seek greater parity and stability for the dominion of capital as a whole have no clear agreement about which political force to support to better guarantee their interests. Although the new Sandinista and pro Lacayo capitalists have their own structures in the FSLN and PRONAL, their interests are too particular to appeal to business as a whole. The business groups are still very dispersed, trying out various political tickets, with no consensus among them. The resistance of traditional capital is what is hanging up major changes in the country, hobbling the articulation of a more integrated strategy from capital as a whole.

Key Mayoral Race: Managua Municipality

At first glance, it would appear that the two "heavyweights" are aligning the rest of the political spectrum behind one or the other of them. But a closer look shows that this has been one sided parties with a center or rightist leaning have linked up with the Liberal Alliance. In the other cases, the movements are more of personalities than of groupings, which indicates that the fight for the undecided vote will be very tough for the duration of the campaign.

The FSLN strategy of opening itself up to "homespun" capital fallen on hard times, raising the promise of debt pardons, will probably win it votes. If the FSLN can make its "captive vote" grow through this appeal or through the fear of Alemán, the revival of the Sandinista mystique, its experienced organizational activism, etc., it could come close enough to the Liberals to force a second round.

In a second round, which many still believe will be needed, winning the Managua municipal mayor's office would be key to the FSLN's chances. All other elected offices are decided in the first round, so a Sandinista mayor in the most populous and powerful municipality could swing a lot of votes.

Indeed, the fight for the Managua mayor's office is triggering the most expectation and greatest number of poll questions after the presidential race. There are four strong party candidates: Carlos Guadamuz (FSLN), Roberto Cedeño (Liberal Alliance), Marta Palacios (PRONAL) and Eduardo Chamorro Coronel (Unity Alliance). In addition two popular petition candidates are well in the running: Herty Lewites (MRS, which did not put up a mayoral candidate in Managua, is supporting him) and Pedro Solórzano (he is being supported by the PNC and UNO 96, which also did not put up candidates). In all polls, Solórzano and Guadamuz are vying for first place, with scant difference in points.

Will the FSLN Vote Go Up or Down?

Even though some of the FSLN's historic leaders forged a very active new sector of capital after the party's electoral defeat, they are still not viewed warmly by traditional capital. Shared interests have not overcome lack of trust. It would thus be hard for the FSLN to expand its popularity by looking "up" to these sectors of capital. On the other hand, the FSLN seems not to be counting on broadening its votes with specific grassroots sectors such as peasant farmers, whom it appears to have decided not to represent. The current challenge to the party, then, is to broaden "downward," which will put its eroded credibility to a hard test.

In such a scenario, is Sandinismo betting on winning, or on losing with enough votes to continue being the second political force in the country, and exercise enough veto power to keep the spaces it has gotten from being closed? If the answer is "to lose," future stability will largely depend on how small the gap is between the FSLN and the winner. If it is big, the FSLN will have to prepare to sacrifice its king in a context of the national move to the right to which it has itself contributed.

Don't Expect Miracles

While all the political forces continue seeking every advantage in the electoral race, voters still have a long and arduous road to travel to exercise their franchise. The accumulated delays in passing the new electoral law, the law's own weaknesses, and also the resignation of Mariano Fiallos from the presidency of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) are still having effects on the voter registration process.

In one of his very few public appearances after leaving his post, Fiallos noted that the huge international financial support for the 1990 elections does not exist this year. In fact, the Supreme Electoral Council mentions daily the financial deficit it is working with: according to CSE president Rosa Marina Zelaya, the organization has a $14 million deficit; $7.1 of it needed to develop the elections and the other $6.9 for the CSE's own administrative functions.

"The patterns of quality achieved in 1990 and 1994 [in the Atlantic Coast elections] cannot be applied this year because they can't be reached," said Fiallos. He also said that, in his judgment, one of the most worrisome aspects of the 1996 process is that there are no control mechanisms over the origin of party campaign funds. He recalled that in July 1995 he had asked the National Assembly to create an Electoral Comptroller's office, but his request was ignored.

Complicating things further, the electoral menu's alphabet soup on the no less than six ballots that voters must mark in October is enough to many anyone dizzy. While more and more eyes turn to the work of the CSE, the population remains expectant and, in most places, is showing a strong desire to at least register to vote, if not to vote. The major discouragement is that much of the electorate perceives that these elections will not necessarily bring stability and the hoped for improvement in living standards. The electoral ritual of democracy seems too complicated and costly to the majority and carries the risk that it will not bring tangible benefits.

Few parties have put together a consistent electoral platform. The role of civic groups and direct control by voters is a gold mine of open work. Instead of expecting the "miracle" that professional politicians will change things on behalf of the population, the population should prevent the politicians from ignoring their promises. The major solutions cannot be expected from the great promises made by those higher up, but from the organization of all those on the ground.

The Economy: Time to Stop Criticizing Government

What is the economic context of the elections? For the second time since 1995, the government officially announced that the economy has grown. This contrasts with the perception of daily reality and with the expectations of a population hard hit by unemployment, poverty, instability and insufficient investment.

It cannot be denied that certain sectors have achieved a notable dynamism. Although this is not generalized, this growth is a reason for joy in an economy depressed for as long as Nicaragua's. After being the leader in Central American growth, it is now at the tail end of regional development, and even a drag on it.

Even though the volume of coffee exports in 1995 was lower than in 1994, good prices pulled the value of exports up. The growth of nontraditional exports such as shellfish, wood and some lesser agricultural categories was indeed extraordinary, but the first two are extractive operations requiring little investment capital. Furthermore, without firm regulations to limit their activity levels, they ravage the natural resources, sacrificing the future for short term profits.

Other dynamic activities are the traditional sesame and okra, or nontraditional ones such as melons and mangos. But none of these can replace the weight that cotton, coffee and beef once had on the export list.

For all these reasons, this partial growth is still not enough to relaunch the economy as a whole. The most serious of all is that only a small sector of new and old national businesses taste the fruits of this dynamism. This calls into question the always optimistic official vision that "we are improving because we're on the right road."

After a long depression and stagnation, the key question is whether the growth registered in these past two years has a firm base, as well as permanence and sustainability. The population's long sacrifice to achieve monetary stability, with scant tangible results in development and welfare terms, has rooted a pessimistic sentiment in the citizenry that ranges between resignation and the hope for a "miracle" that will change the current state of affairs.

Both in politics and in economy, we should evaluate the Chamorro administration with visionary eyes centered on the long run, not with short sighted blinders. And this evaluation should be not to criticize it, or even influence it, since its turn in the saddle is nearly over. It should be to extract lessons that can be used to deal with the urgent challenges that whatever government that takes office after the 1996 elections will have to face.

Election Month Minus Five at a Glance
Preliminary* Presidential Candidate List


Party Candidate

Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) Daniel Ortega
Independent Liberal Party (PLI) Virgilio Godoy
Liberal Unity Party (PUL) Haroldo Monealegre
Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PNC) Noel Vidaurre
Conservative Popular Alliance (APC) Miriam Argüello
National Justice Party (PJN) José Díaz Cruz
Christian Road of Nicaragua Party (CCN) Güillermo Osorno
National Project (PRONAL) Antonio Lacayo
Sandinista Renovator Movement (MRS) Sergio Ramírez
Democratic Action Party (PAD) Edén Pastora
Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) Gustavo Tablada
Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN) Elí Altamirano
Nicaraguan Resistance Party Enrique Quiñonez
Nicaraguan Democratic Alliance Party (PADN) Pedro Mayorga
Nicaraguan Unity Party, Workers
Peasants and Professionals (PNUOCP) Heberto Mayorga
National Renovation Movement (MORENA) Allan Tefel Alba
Renovating Action Movement (MAR) Issa Moisés Hassan
Central America Integrationist Party (PIAC) Sergio Mendieta
Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT)
Popular Action Movement Marxist Leninist
MAP ML)

Alliance Candidate

Liberal Alliance José Arnoldo Alemán
NeoLiberal Party (PALI),
Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC)
Liberal Party of National Unity (PLIUN)
plus Central American Unionist Party (PUCA)
(also includes National Liberal Party of
Somozas, not legally registered)

Unity Alliance Alejandro Serrano
Social Democratic Party (PSD)
Social Christian Party (PCS)
Revolutionary Unity Movement (MUR)

UNO 96 Alliance Alfredo César
Democratic National Party (PND)
Christian Democratic Movement (MDC)
Conservative Action Movement (MAC)

Nicaraguan Alliance Alvaro Robelo
Christian Democratic Union (UDC)
Conservative National Action (ANC)

Bread and Strength Alliance Francisco Mayorga
National Action Party (PAN)
Republican Strength 96 Alliance

Of the six parties with a Liberal ideology, four joined the Liberal Alliance and two are going alone, though a fraction of the PLI joined the alliance. Two of the four Conservative parties (PNC and APC) are also going alone a fraction of the PNC joined the Liberal Alliance as well while the other two (ANC and MAC) each joined separate alliances, one of Social and Christian Democrats and the other of Social Christians in the UDC.

Alvaro Robelo is the candidate of the latter of those two the Nicaraguan Alliance after his own short lived but splashy party called Arriba Nicaragua disappeared in a confusing chain of financial and political events. After a visit from the owners and Italian stockholders of the European Bank of Central America (BECA), Robelo stepped down from his director's position in the bank, which was allegedly involved in a complicated international money laundering operation discovered in Italy. In mid May, the head of the Superintendency of Banks, which oversees all banking activity in Nicaragua, audited the BECA and announced that he had found "nothing abnormal indicating that is linked to the activities attributed to it."
Another casualty of splintering is the Nicaraguan Resistance
Party, which claims to represent all of the fighting force in the 1980s known as "contras." A sector of the PRN led by Fabio Gadea Mantilla, a profoundly anti Sandinista businessman linked to Radio Corporación, also splintered off to join Alemán's Liberal Alliance after Gadea lost the vote to be the PRN's presidential candidate. The other most visible segment is led by PRN presidential candidate Enrique Quiñonez, a military leader during the war. Quiñonez says that the FSLN and the PRN are the only two "representative forces" in Nicaragua and does not discard a PRN FSLN alliance in the 2001 elections.

Regarding the center alliance many were hoping for to break
the deadlock between Sandinistas and Liberals, it was aborted when virtually none of the presidential hopefuls from the 10 parties meeting between May 10 and 16 would back down from their insistance on being the alliance candidate. While six of those parties (PRONAL, MRS, PLI, PNC, ANC and PAD) are now putting forward their presidential candidates alone, another, smaller alliance called "Unity" rose from the ashes of the larger meetings: it is made up of the PSC, PSD and the leftist MUR, Moisés Hassan's old party. Its candidate, Alejandro Serrano Caldera, was president of Nicaragua's Autonomous National University (UNAN) during the 1980s.

The traditional small leftwing parties seem to have taken a near fatal beating over the past few years. The PRT put forward no candidates, the MAP ML decided to go only for National Assembly seats, and the Communist and Socialist parties are both running alone after the turbulent period of belonging to the 1990 rightist electoral coalition known as UNO. It remains to be seen what they stand for now.

*The political parties have a week in which to challenge any of the candidates with the Supreme Electoral Council on constitutional or other grounds.

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