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  Number 185 | Diciembre 1996
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua Election Briefs

Aldo Díaz Lacayo

History of Electoral Observation

In 1984, the first free elections in Nicaragua's history were covered by some 460 observers from 24 countries. In 1990 its
elections brought 2,578; the Organization of American States alone had 300.

Carter Booed

The Carter Center delegation arrived in Nicaragua on October 18. In addition to former US President Jimmy Carter himself, the delegation included a number of former Latin American Presidents as well as James Baker, US Secretary of State during the Reagan administration. On Carter's arrival, he was greeted by shouts of "non grato" from members of the Association of the Confiscated. Because President Carter cut
off military aid to Somoza in early 1979 due to the latter's extreme human rights violations, they hold him personally responsible "for everything that has happened in Nicaragua since 1979." The more recent source of their hostility is that Carter helped forge a solution to Nicaragua's property conflict which they find wholly unsatisfactory. "He is the Sandinistas' teacher," they said.

Carter Predicts Few Problems

After meeting with the CSE, the OAS and six political groupings on October 18, Jimmy Carter predicted that technical irregularities in the voting and ballot counting "will be non existent or observed very rarely."

OAS Comes Early

This year the OAS mission sent an advance team of two dozen experienced observers in mid April to set up field offices and observe the ad hoc voter registration in the 26 municipalities excluded from this round of creating permanent ID voter registration cards; their exclusion was due in part to the presence of armed groups. Instead, the 341,000 voters who registered on four weekends in June and early July were given one time voting cards. By election day the OAS had 117 observers, less than half the number it had in 1990. Many of them had been contracted only the previous week.

The Observation Biz

envío learned that electoral observers for the European Union earned $3,000 for four days of observation in Matagalpa and Jinotega. In contrast, the more than 100 observers from the Catalonian Platform of Support to the Nicaraguan Electoral Process not only earned nothing, but all paid their own way to Nicaragua as well as their stay in the country, in a show of solidarity with Nicaragua's democratic process through their observation work.

As for the Nicaraguans, the nearly 45,000 people who staffed the polling places for three days received salaries equivalent to about $15. The party monitors were given food and travel expenses by the CSE amounting to roughly $5.

Many Ethics and Transparency observers report they weren't even given food expenses, though the salaries of the top level staff are said to be high.

Ethics and Transparency's Observers Speak

The Catholic Church provided 28% of Ethics and Transparency's 4,238 observers and the NGOs provided 16% (10% were from CENIDH and 4% from CEPAD). Nearly half were independent.

CENIDH's observers gave laudable reasons for volunteering their services to Ethics and Transparency's work. In addition to the obvious ones of wanting to assure clean elections and oversee a democratic process, many said they had joined to increase the participation of youth in the electoral process. Those from Chontales added that they were grateful for the opportunity given to peasants to play a role and had hoped by their presence to prevent any violence. Virtually all said they would volunteer again next time, though they were not sure they would do so with Ethics and Transparency, since it had provided no food assistance even though they spent up to 24 hours in their JRV.

Right after the elections, Ethics and Transparency limited itself to publishing a statement that "the irregularities observed, some of them serious, during the voting do not have sufficient magnitude to invalidate the process or the credibility of the elections held."

Civil Society Speaks

The international women's delegation released an extensive declaration congratulating the strong and competent participation of women as JRV officials and their high voter turnout, contrasting this with their limited presence as candidates. They also noted the various irregularities they had observed, above all the chaos in the delivery of ballots to the reception centers of Matagalpa and Managua.

The more than 120 observers of the Catalonian Platform of Support to the Nicaraguan Electoral Process (PCAPEN) released an extremely critical communiqué on October 23: "During the electoral campaign we observed anti democratic attitudes, intervention by armed groups in certain zones of the country, and anonymous threats, flyers, etc. against party monitors and local and departmental candidates. We also sadly saw the open party positioning of public institutions as well as of Cardinal Obando y Bravo. This interference is incomprehensible from a democratic culture." Some members of the NGOs, municipal governments, trade unions and political parties of varying ideologies making up PCAPEN had been in the country for months, many of them in the conflictive
zones. In their communiqué they added that the "most worrisome aspect in our observation refers to the moment of the vote count and especially the transmission of the data."

First Days, First Official Responses

On election night itself, Dutch Ambassador Franz Van Haren, who helped head up the European Union observer delegation,
said, "There is nothing easy about organizing six elections to perfection at the same time. This is the origin of many of the problems. But the most important thing we observed was the population's massive participation, their patience and ability to hold out for long hours waiting for the elections to get started."
The next morning, Jimmy Carter called the voters' discipline, patience and massive turnout "an example for the whole hemisphere." The Carter Center's press statement, released on October 21, encouraged "all political parties to register any complaints with the Supreme Electoral Council to be addressed in a calm and time fashion."
That same night, following a call by FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega for a thorough review of the election results, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a member of Carter's delegation, lamented that "such a beautiful civic act and such a nice, exemplary electoral celebration could be surrounded by suspicions of a possible fraud."

First Days, First Official Responses

The Permanent Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Political Parties (COPPAL), though acknowledging a "worrisome number of complaints and charges registered in the departments," said it was convinced that " the difficulties do not obey any fraudulent desire of the electoral authorities."
The Socialist International's secretary general, Luis Ayala, in contrast, said he shared "the concerns of the FSLN and other Nicaraguan political parties about the electoral anomalies and fraudulent situations.... Making the necessary corrections is fundamental so that everyone, inside Nicaragua and abroad, can share the sentiments that the final part of the electoral process has been satisfactory."
On October 23, with 87% of the votes counted, US Ambassador John Maisto paid a "courtesy visit" to Arnoldo Alemán as Nicaragua's President elect and discarded the possibility that the review would turn up any evidence of fraud that would significantly change the election results. "The numbers speak for themselves," he said, adding that his government would wait for the conclusion of the CSE count before officially recognizing the presidential winner.

Who Couldn't Vote And Why?

In its more critical, pre voting day mode, the OAS showed great worry on October 18 that some 220,000 people might not be able to vote because they had not received their voting credentials. The next day, CSE executive secretary Cyril Omier explained that 140,000 of those who had not retrieved their credentials lived on the Atlantic Coast. Local religious leaders had urged them not to accept the temporary voting documents issued instead of permanent ID/voter cards due to problems with some people's Civil Registry files.

By the eve of the elections, the issue of how many people were prevented from voting had become mired in a numbers game. The CSE admitted that over 111,000 would be unable to vote due to errors detected on the electoral rolls, but did not make clear whether this 5.3% of total voters was part of or additional to those who did not have their credentials. Adding to the confusion, Jimmy Carter was reported as saying that only 4% has not received them.

CENIDH Takes OAS to Task

In a November 4 report, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center
(CENIDH) questioned the declarations of the OAS Secretary General the morning after the elections: "In a precipitous fashion, Dr. César Gaviria said on October 21 that the Nicaraguan process had been 'fair and transparent,' which constitutes an open violation of article 18, point e, of the International Observation Norms...and contradicts the efforts that his own observer mission has been developing in the post election phase in the due process of denunciations and charges that they have sent to the CSE about the irregularities found...."

Carter Urges Information

The Carter Center issued a communiqué a week before the CSE's announcement of the final results which, among other things,
referred to the irregularities that arose on election night and in the succeeding days. Noting that the CSE had not announced any details about the recounting of many ballots, the correction of tallies and the annulling of some JRVs due to the disappearance of ballots and other serious problems, it urged the CSE to do so as soon as possible. It called this information "indispensible" so that "the Nicaraguan people, as well as the international observers, can evaluate the appeals of the parties and the announcement of the Council. Only through such an open and comprehensive evaluation can the Nicaraguan people have confidence in the official results." The CSE has yet to release this information.

IRI Op Ed Causes Tension

An op ed piece written by former president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) Keith E. Schuette, reprinted in La Tribuna on November 8, upset some of the US observers who stayed in the country to observe the electoral review. The article, titled "Leave Them Alone Mr. Carter," ends as follows: We hope that Alemán will exercise his mandate with dignity and equity, and without the incessant mediation of the Carter Center.... Perhaps its time could
be better used in North Korea-- observing the evidence of missiles from Pyongyan--where threats to stability really exist." The IRI supported the Nicaraguan Opposition Union candidacy of Violeta Chamorro in 1990, during Schuette's tenure, and Arnoldo Alemán in 1996, and brought a team of observers in both elections.

Fraud or Anomalies?

In the end, was there low level, perhaps even free lance fraud? Or were there only massive technical and administrative anomalies resulting from a CSE that lost control of the process this year due to an overwhelming number of responsibilities and problems created in the first instance by the political class and in the last by exhausted and inadequately trained JRV officials? Perhaps the best circumstantial evidence that the mass of irregularities cannot all be put down to difficulties by JRV officials dealing with the admittedly complex elections was offered by a seasoned observer from civil society: "The voters had no training at all to prepare for six ballots and the complexities of cross voting, and they had to stand for hours under the hot sun. How did they keep their error rate to only 5% annulled ballots while the JRV personnel had an error rate of up to 80%?"

A Double Standard?

In Ortega's speech to 10,000 Sandinistas gathered at the Cathedral Plaza on November 8 to commemorate the death of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca the same day the CSE revealed the provisional electoral results following the review he illustrated his charge of a double standard with a private anecdote from this year's election. Ortega recounted that in the private meeting with Oscar Arias on October 21, Arias said in the presence of a dozen witnesses, "God help us if this had happened in Costa Rica or in a European country. The elections would have been annulled at the very least."

Closure at Midnight

At nearly midnight on November 22, 33 days after the elections, Supreme Electoral Council president Rosa Marina Zelaya closed Nicaragua's conflictive electoral race by announcing the names of all the elected authorities down to the level of municipal mayor. In her introductory remarks, Zelaya summarized the crisis by simply acknowledging that there were "many problems," blaming them on the deficient electoral law passed at the end of last year. She attributed the responsibility for the anomalies that occurred on voting day exclusively to "some bad Nicaraguans," specifically those who presided over some voting tables. She otherwise swept away the cloud of problems with the judgment that Nicaraguans "made patent their interest in fair, transparent and honest elections."

The Homespun Violeta

President Violeta Chamorro, in a stopover in Panama on her way to the IV Iberoamerican Summit in Chile on November 9, spoke to journalists about Nicaragua's future: "I feel very happy about leaving my homeland like a huge cake, in freedom and democracy." On her return she made light of Daniel Ortega's criticism of her for having violated the electoral silence with anti Sandinista opinions: "Let him say what he wants. It goes in one ear and out the other."

Another Violeta?

After learning of the definitive election results on November 22, President Chamorro congratulated her successor on his presidential victory the next day. "I want you to be another
Violeta and work for reconciliation," she told Arnoldo Alemán. To which he responded, "We are going to continue everything good that you have done, but it will be a reconciliation with justice."

Complex Elections

These elections were the most complex in Nicaragua's entire electoral history. Just short of 9,000 polling places had to be set up around the country to accommodate the 2.4 million voters. Five electoral functionaries had to be selected and trained for each polling place: 3 officers, a scribe and an electoral policeperson--in total, 45,000 people. In addition, all the 24 parties or alliances plus the 53 popular petition associations that ran municipal candidates could have one poll watcher at each table. The voters marked six different ballots, each of them over half a yard long to accommodate the 20 31 columns for different party slates, depending on the election and the place.

ID/Voter Card Process

Voters received one of three different types of voter registration documents: either the new photo ID card (some 800,000), or the substitute document given those whose cards were not yet ready (over 1,000,000) or the civic booklet given to those in 26 municipalities excluded from applying for their ID card this year (about 340,000). In addition, many of those who lost their document voted with a permission slip provided by the CSE.

The difficulty in processing the tens of thousands of
ID card applications, which overlapped the preparation of the elections in both time and the energy of the CSE staff, was directly linked to the deplorable state of Nicaragua's Civil Registry. "Deficient civil registries are common in Latin America," states a report by Hemisphere Initiatives/WOLA, "leaving basically two ways to introduce national ID systems: Start from scratch, based on the data the person provides, which then becomes that person's legal identity; or start with the existing registry and correct it where necessary, as the CSE chose to do. This method has meant endless checking, rechecking, and hiring of district judges and lawyers to do the legal paperwork required to simultaneously create an accurate Civil Registry and a computerized electoral roll." It was an overly ambitious task and reality showed that it affected the ordered development of the electoral process.

Election Security

The army and the police played a crucial role protecting order and security in the 8,995 polling places, half of them in the
rural areas. Nearly 20,000 people contributed to this effort: 10,000 of the 14,500 army personnel, 5,500 professional police and 3,500 volunteer police. No incident of violence was reported on October 20, although in the previous months "armed proselytizing" for the Liberals was a constant by armed bands in the northern and central zones.

In the last weeks before the elections an army offensive
drove these bands into unoccupied areas of the country. Nonetheless, some party poll--watchers in the north of the country reported that they were prevented from entering their JRVs by members of these groups. One FSLN monitor even reported that at a JRV in a small community outside Wiwilí, over a dozen armed men had entered and demanded to vote. Even though their names did not appear on the elector roll, no one argued with them.

Truth Commission Or Witch Hunt?

During Arnoldo Alemán's election campaign, one of his announcements that created even greater uncertainty was that his government would set up a "Truth Commission." In an interview run in the October 17 Miami Herald, Alemán fleshed out his goals. "It would not be with the object of promoting a witch hunt," he said. "I have said that it would be good and advisable for any government that takes office to create a commission like the truth commissions of Argentina, Chile and El Salvador. I believe that such a commission ought to be created in Nicaragua, not only to investigate human rights violations, assassinations and other anomalies. There are also many people who have made enormous fortunes while in government service." In those same days, Cardinal Obando said that "if this commission is made up of honest, mature and trained people, I believe that it would be useful for the country."

Comptroller General Steps on Toes

The decision by Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín, elected this past April after tense negotiations, to point out some examples of murky administration by high Chamorro government officials has created unrest in her Cabinet. In a public letter to Jarquín it states: "In this process of democratic consolidation, special care must be given to the procedures used by organizations of public administration control to avoid pressured conclusions that could put the honor of functionaries who have dedicated themselves to public service in a vulnerable position, perhaps irreparably. In this regard, it is necessary to avoid issuing serious accusations of corruption against functionaries through public opinion, when the investigation procedures have not yet been duly completed, or when the indispensable opportunity of defense by those supposedly involved has not been sufficiently mediated."

Daniel Ortega

In Daniel Ortega's first declarations after the electoral crisis finally "ended" on November 22 with the announcement
of the definitive results, he made clear that, unlike after the 1990 elections, he would personally occupy his seat in the National Assembly, given to losing presidential candidates who win a certain percentage of the vote. With respect to the kind of opposition party that the FSLN will be to the Liberal Alliance government, he said that "it is the executive that will set the stage. Everything will depend on whether or not the executive arrives with an attitude of vengeance." In these same declarations, Daniel Ortega acknowledged the decisive role his brother Humberto played as an electoral campaign strategist. "The campaign," he said, "succeeded in regrouping Sandinistas at all levels: the leaders, the medium and professional sectors, and especially the poor sectors."

Humberto Ortega

After many months of silence, retired General Humberto Ortega returned to public life following the announcement of the final electoral results. In an extensive message titled "Some Reflections on the Elections," General Ortega proposed that "with an eye to national stability, governability and the basic legitimacy of the new government that Arnoldo Alemán will preside over, it would be appropriate for the entire Supreme Electoral Council to resign, making way for the country's new authorities to take immediate steps to provide Nicaragua with a more professional and competent, non politicized Supreme Electoral Council that will give confidence to all Nicaraguans, thus strengthening the institutionality of the Nicaraguan state." In his message, the FSLN's campaign strategist also publicly thanked "the FSLN, its leadership, and particularly its secretary general, Comandante Daniel Ortega, for having given me the opportunity to contribute to the search for the significant and strategic achievements that Sandinismo made in this historic electoral campaign. I thank those who assisted my efforts in solidarity, without personal interests and with creativity and tenacity. Although the FSLN did not win, it also did not lose, and the great but complex and difficult task of all Nicaraguans to mature toward democracy is now a very firm conviction of Sandinistas.

The Christian Way

Virgilio Godoy, who resigned as Violeta Chamorro's Vice President to be the presidential candidate of his Independent Liberal Party believes that the political ascension of Guillermo Osorno, presidential candidate of the new and third placing Nicaraguan Christian Way (CCN) opens up an unknown dimension in the political life of the nation. "Up to now the competition has been between a Catholic Church hierarchy and an impressive number of evangelical denominations that had no vertical structure," explained Godoy, who got only 0.32% of the presidential vote. "But now a leader is appearing with great vitality from the other side of the religious street. The competition is not now between institutions but at the level of personal leadership."
In one of his own first declarations after getting 4% of the votes, CCN leader Guillermo Osorno declared: "I love the Liberals and the Sandinistas and they have a brother in me. I am going to support them in the Assembly when they contribute ideas and laws that benefit the Nicaraguan people. But they will see me on the other side of the street when they want to approve anti popular laws."

Alemán on the FSLN...

In his first extensive declarations after the announcement of the final electoral results, Arnoldo Alemán said in an interview on Carlos Fernando Chamorro`s television program that the FSLN "is a national reality" and that it is necessary "to enter into a dialogue with it and not think that Nicaragua is a pie." He added that "I feel more comfortable having a solid interlocutor, a solid FSLN bench before me in the Assembly, and not a bench of 14 parties" (as the UNO, of which his party was a member, was in 1990).

...And on Cuba

The issue of the new Liberal government's relations with Cuba is creating nervousness. In informal declarations after his election, Alemán promised that any Cuban who has "human rights problems" will find "a tribunal" to denounce and defend them in Nicaragua. On the other hand, Alemán's new foreign minister, ophthalmologist and political commentator Emilio Alvarez Montalván, said, also in informal declarations: "The Castro regime has no capacity to harm us. We would we want to be fighting with it?"

The FSLN on Property...

In his speech after the official CSE proclamation of Arnoldo Alemán as President, FSLN secretary general Daniel Ortega declared that laws 85, 86 and 88, passed by the outgoing legislators in 1990, as well as the agreements from the first and second phases of the Concertación (1991 and 1992) and the 1995 Property Law are all "irreversible." Ortega warned cryptically that if the Liberal government does not recognize them, "it will not resolve the property law, but will make it bigger."

..And on It's Own Future

Evaluating the FSLN's own results in the elections as well as the electoral crisis itself, Daniel Ortega said he felt "satisfied" by the results, even though they "removed, robbed and conjured away votes" from the FSLN. He aded that he was "worried" about the consequences of the electoral crisis, but was optimistic about the FSLN's future. "The Frente has come out strengthened," he said. "And unlike 1990, when we started with a crisis that lasted five years, we are now more capable of preparing a medium term strategy." He anounced that in the third of the country's municipal governments won by the FSLN,
the "'government of all' philosophy would be put into practice," referring to his campaign slogan.

By the Way, the Debt...

Costa Rican President José María Figueres visited Arnoldo Alemán on November 16 to initiate interchanges between the two governments. Figueres praised Nicaragua's "nice" and "exemplary" elections "which fill all Central Americans with pride." While he was at it, he reminded Alemán of Nicaragua's $400 million debt with Costa Rica. The other Central American Presidents signed off on the Nicaraguan elections as "transparent" during the VI Iberoamerican Summit, held in Chile in mid November.

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