A Country Divided: Relative Defeats and Victories
The biggest success was the FSLN’s victory in Managua but the hands-down winner, even in Managua, was abstention.
All other wins, both Liberal and Sandinista, were ally "technical draws." Had these been presidential elections, the PLC would have won, but only by a narrow margin.
José Luis Rocha and Thelma Martínez
The biggest success was the FSLN’s victory in Managua but the hands-down winner, even in Managua, was abstention. All other wins, both Liberal and Sandinista, were really "technical draws." Had these been presidential elections, the PLC would have won, but only by a narrow margin.
The laments and cheers, the a posteriori legal challenges by those incapable of losing gracefully and the triumphant posturing by those incapable of winning gracefully need to be scaled to size against the definitive results announced by the Supreme Electoral Council after a long wait on November 28.
FSLN: 11 departmental capitalsThe first changes in these elections emerged before the campaigning even officially began, with the incorporation of 327,137 new voters onto the electoral rolls and the creation of 6 new municipalities, bringing the total to 151. The new municipalities were El Crucero, Ciudad Sandino, Wiwilí, Nueva Segovia, San Francisco de Cuapa, El Coral and El Ayote.
Which municipalities in the country’s 17 departments did each party win? To begin with, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) won 94 (62.25%) of the 151 municipalities, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) 52 (34.44%), and the Conservative Party (PC) 5 (3.31%). While the FSLN won the same number of municipal governments as in 1996, the PLC increased its share by three, although its voter margin over the FSLN shrank by under a percentage point from the 28.4% it achieved in 1996.
In those 1996 general elections, which included municipal elections, the Liberal Alliance won 91 of the then 145 municipalities and the FSLN 52, while the Sandinista Renovation Movement won the municipality of El Rosario. Meanwhile, in a legal provision annulled by the recent electoral reforms, the Potosí Civic Association ran and won in the municipality of Potosí as a popular subscription association.
The PLC’s loss of municipal governments in six departmental capitals it had won in 1996 was balanced out by its stronger showing in rural municipalities, although this is small comfort given the populational weight of the local capitals. The PLC only won five departmental capitals: Boaco, Rivas, Masaya, Jinotepe and Jinotega. The FSLN won 11: Ocotal, Somoto, Estelí, Chinandega, León, Juigalpa, Matagalpa, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, San Carlos and Managua. The votes the FSLN picked up in these 11 cities represent almost 40% of its nationwide total. Since FSLN mayors will now be governing 36% of the population that is currently eligible and registered to vote in next November’s presidential elections, they will work hard to have a positive influence on those who did not vote for them this time.
In these departmental capitals, the municipal elections inverted the 1996 results (11 for the Liberal Alliance and 6 for the FSLN), which does not reflect what happened on the national level. The reductive Liberal metamorphosis from the Liberal Alliance in 1996 to the PLC in 2000 does not appear to have influenced the loss of any significant cities. The most important factor in the Liberals’ defeats rather appears to have been the fact that the party’s swindles and corruption scandals have been more evident precisely where people have greater access to continuous and effective information about what is going on in the rest of the country.
The PLC won at least 50% of the municipalities in 12 departments and its percentage of municipalities was above its national average in 11 of the 17. It also obtained 100% of the municipalities in 1 department, a feat the FSLN was unable to match. In only 4 departments did the FSLN win more than 50% of the municipalities and in 12 it won a percentage of municipalities inferior to its national percentage. In two departments, it won no municipalities at all.
* Even after publication of the definitive results, the following new challenges were presented to the CSE: the Christian Way challenged the FSLN victory in Nagarote; the Conservative Party challenged the PLC victory in Cuapa; the FSLN challenged the PLC victories in La Libertad, El Jicaral, Telica, Potosí, Masatepe and several more; and the PLC challenged a number of municipalities won by the FSLN.
A detailed look at the new political geographyOf the 52 municipalities the FSLN won, it would still have won in 30 (shown below in bold) even had the PLC and PC votes been added together. This is nothing to be sniffed at, as it challenges the theory President Alemán and others put forward that the FSLN only wins if the anti-Sandinista vote—referred to as either the "rightwing" or "democratic" vote—is split. Alemán went so far as to blame the Conservatives for the Liberal losses.
The FSLN retained 29 of the municipalities it had won in 1996. They include 15 that it has not lost since 1984—Jalapa, Ocotal, Condega, Estelí, Somotillo, Villanueva, Larreynaga, León, San Francisco Libre, San Marcos, San Juan del Sur, Cárdenas, El Tuma, La Dalia, San Ramón and Bonanza—and 14 it lost in 1990 and won back in 1996—Somoto, Telpaneca, San Francisco del Norte, El Viejo, Puerto Morazán, El Realejo, Chichigalpa, Posoltega, El Sauce, Quezalguaque, La Paz Centro, Tisma, Niquinohomo and Puerto Cabezas.
Another 22 are municipalities the FSLN did not win in 1996: San Pedro del Norte, Corinto, Chinandega, Santa Rosa del Peñón, Nagarote, Managua, Tipitapa, Ticuantepe, San Rafael del Sur, Catarina, Diriamba, Diriomo, Belén, Juigalpa, San Isidro, Matagalpa, El Castillo, Waspán, Rosita, Bluefields, Potosí and San Carlos. It also failed to win 14 of these in 1990 as well: Managua, Corinto, Chinandega, Santa Rosa del Peñón, Nagarote, Ticuantepe, San Rafael del Sur, Catarina, Diriamba, Diriomo, Belén, Juigalpa, San Isidro and Matagalpa.
Of the 6 newly created municipalities, the FSLN only won 1: Ciudad Sandino. The PLC won the other 5: Wiwilí (Nueva Segovia), San Francisco de Cuapa, El Coral, El Ayote and El Crucero.
The PLC also took 8 municipalities that the FSLN had not lost since 1984: Dipilto, San Fernando, Pueblo Nuevo, Cinco Pinos, Mateare, Masatepe, Jinotepe and Santa Teresa.
The 81 other municipalities the PLC won are Santa María, Macuelizo, Mozonte, Ciudad Antigua, El Jícaro, Murra, Quilalí, Yalagüina, Totogalpa, Palacagüina, San Juan de Río Coco, San Lucas, Las Sabanas, San José de Cusmapa, San Juan de Limay, San Nicolás, La Trinidad, Santo Tomás del Norte, Achuapa, Telica, El Jicaral, Villa Carlos Fonseca, Nindirí, Masaya, La Concepción, Nandasmo, San Juan de Oriente, Dolores, El Rosario, La Paz de Oriente, La Conquista, Diriá, Nandaime, Altagracia, Tola, Rivas, San Jorge, Comalapa, La Libertad, Santo Domingo, Santo Tomás, Villa Sandino, Acoyapa, Santa Lucía, Boaco, Camoapa, Teustepe, San Lorenzo, Rancho Grande, Río Blanco, Sébaco, Matiguás, Ciudad Darío, Terrabona, San Dionisio, Esquipulas, Muy Muy, Wiwilí (Jinotega), El Cuá Bocay, Santa María de Pantasma, San Sebastián de Yalí, La Concordia, San Rafael del Norte, Jinotega, El Almendro, Morrito, San Miguelito, San Juan del Norte, Prinzapolka, Siuna, Waslala, Bocana de Paiwas, La Cruz del Río Grande, Desembocadura del Río Grande, Laguna de Perlas, Kukra Hill, Rama, Muelle de los Bueyes, Nueva Guinea, Corn Island and El Tortuguero.
The Conservative Party won in 5 municipalities: Granada, Moyogalpa, Buenos Aires, San José de los Remates and San Pedro de Lóvago, all of which were formally ruled by the Liberals.
Where the FSLN and PLC picked up most votes…A still better measure of each party’s particular pull in each department and of how things might go in the forthcoming presidential elections is the total number of votes obtained and the percentage of votes over voters registered. Table 2 shows the number of registered voters, the number of votes cast and the percentage of votes over voters registered for both the PLC and the FSLN. The figures are presented in descending order according to the FSLN’s percentage. Table 1 also shows the difference of votes attracted by the FSLN and the PLC, again in descending order according to preference for the FSLN.
The five departments in which the FSLN received the greatest number of votes were Managua, León, Matagalpa, Chinandega and Estelí—60% of all the votes it drew on the national level. In each of these departments, the FSLN won the departmental capital. The five departments in which the PLC picked up the greatest number of votes were Managua, Matagalpa, León), Jinotega and the RAAS. Of these, the PLC only won the departmental capital in Jinotega. In these five departments, the PLC picked up 52% of the votes that it drew on the national level. Due to its more rural character, the PLC vote appears less geographically concentrated than the Sandinista vote. The fact that three departments appear in both these lists is explained by the size of their populations.
…and where they picked up the leastThe five departments with the largest number of registered voters are Managua, Matagalpa, León, Chinandega and, surprisingly, the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). Although León and Managua appear on the lists of departments with most votes cast for both the FSLN and the PLC, the FSLN had a significant advantage over the PLC in both. In León this is due to a deep-rooted anti-Somoza tradition, while in Managua it is probably the result of the national media’s almost uniform opposition to the PLC. The FSLN will undoubtedly try to further mine these two quarries of possible votes for the presidential elections. Matagalpa also appears on both lists, though in this case the support is reversed. The PLC has an advantage of almost 14,000 votes over the FSLN, in part due to apathy resulting from the Sandinista government’s failures and abuses during the armed conflict of the eighties. The same attitude holds true for Jinotega and in now greater proportions for the RAAS. The latter came out of the CSE’s new municipal ordering process with four municipalities that had previously been part of the predominantly rural department of Chontales, which has little affinity with the FSLN.
The departments in which the FSLN won fewest votes were Chontales, Boaco and Río San Juan. Those in which the PLC won fewest were the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), Granada and Río San Juan. All but one of these departments have small populations and low numbers of registered voters. Granada is a different case altogether, given that the PLC was affected by the re-emergence of the Conservative Party. In any case, in all of these departments, including those where it appears most weakened, the PLC drew more votes than the FSLN. These departments have mainly rural populations, which is where the PLC has its greatest advantage.
Although absolute numbers of votes are important for strategizing the upcoming presidential elections, the percentage of votes over registered voters gives a clearer idea of which departments are more or less favorable to each of the two major parties. Table 2 shows the margins of difference between the FSLN and the PLC in each department in terms of percentages of votes over voters registered.
The five departments where the FSLN achieved its greatest percentage of votes over registered voters were Madriz, Estelí, Nueva Segovia, León and Managua, although the PLC got an even higher percentage in both Madriz and Nueva Segovia. The five departments in which the PLC obtained its greatest percentage were Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, Estelí and Matagalpa. Curiously, the municipality of Managua, which came in fifth for the FSLN, is third from last for the PLC in percentage terms, showing the third highest level of antipathy or indifference toward the Liberals after the RAAN and Chinandega. Given its population size, Managua is very influential in electoral terms, and was paradoxically the springboard that the PLC used to leap from micro to macro party and that its caudillo, Arnoldo Alemán, used to catapult himself from mayor to President of the Republic.
Boaco, Chontales, the RAAN and the RAAS were the departments least inclined toward the FSLN. Although the FSLN won four of the RAAN’s seven municipalities, its victory was built on the vote of just 11.5% of the registered voters due to the massive abstention following the conflicts between the CSE and the indigenous organization YATAMA. In the department as a whole, the FSLN got fewer votes than the PLC.
Diagram 1 provides a basic view of the real dimension of the victories achieved by both parties. The PLC pulled over 30% of the registered voters in only four departments and the FSLN in only two. On the other side of the equation, the PLC attracted fewer than 20% of the registered voters in four departments and the FSLN in six.
Table 3 shows that the total percentage of votes over registered voters for both parties fell in comparison to the 1996 elections. The PLC only increased its percentage in Estelí, Madriz and Nueva Segovia, while the FSLN’s percentage increased in Jinotega, Matagalpa, Madriz and Managua. It should be pointed out that the PLC entered the 1996 elections as the Liberal Alliance and has since broken with all of its allies, at times quite acrimoniously, which may be why its percentage shows a more marked decrease. The consequences of running alone are not all negative, however. The advantage is that the votes the PLC attracted this time around were exclusively for it as the ruling party, something that has helped consolidate it as a party.
Is the country still polarized?From this analysis based on the correlation of forces between the FSLN and the PLC, it appears that the 2000 elections have reinforced the country’s political polarization. Like the relations between animal species, the relations between political parties tend to be competitive, predatory and parasitical. Under the assumption that the majority of small parties benefited from a parasitical relation—Alemán and Ortega in fact referred to them in such terms—the PLC and FSLN had them excluded through predatory reforms to the electoral legislation. The idea was to establish a bi-party political system with a competitive relation that both sides felt would work to their advantage. Has history proved them right? Has the population rubber-stamped the bi-party design by voting for these two parties?
Certain figures bear out the theory that Nicaragua is still polarized. One of these is the fact that the PLC and the FSLN respectively attracted 41.57% and 40.34% of the vote. In the 1996 elections, the Liberal Alliance ended up with 40% and the FSLN with 32%. In other words, while the two sides attracted a combined 72% of the votes in 1996, this share rose to 82% in 2000. The two other parties that participated in the elections—the Conservative Party and the Christian Way—intended to provide an alternative to the bi-party system represented by the parties involved in the pact, but they made a poor showing. In reality, they ended up as an appendage of the very pact they set out to oppose.
In practice the pact’s exclusion of their political options imposed the conditions needed for the desired polarization by obliging citizens who wanted to vote to decide from a very limited and not very attractive range of political alternatives. To accurately analyze the polarization, the wide range of vote mobility must also be taken into account. Voters overturned numerous municipal administrations, including departmental capitals. They voted in Sandinista mayors to municipal governments that Liberal administrations had headed up for two terms. They put into Liberal hands municipal governments that the Sandinistas had never lost. Even more significantly, they voted the FSLN into 30 municipalities by such a sizeable margin that even the PLC and PC running together could not have defeated it. Of these, 8 are municipalities that the FSLN lost in 1996 and in 3 others the FSLN had not previously governed for a decade.
The most significant element of all is the extremely high rate of abstentions (and/or spoiled votes, which have been lumped into the abstention category this year). These can be taken to represent the population excluded by the CSE’s administrative chaos and by the illegitimacy of an electoral process turned electoral circus by the pact’s agreements. The high abstention rate makes it possible to assert that, while the vote was polarized, the electorate was not.
Paradoxically, however, the abstention rate opened the way for the polarization of the vote, although a polarization with various nuances. It is true that excellent candidates selected by the Christian Way and the Conservative Party could make no headway against the traditional Sandinista or Liberal votes or against the institutional, financial and organizational apparatus of the two powerful parties to the pact in more than a few municipalities. Nonetheless, it is equally true that many FSLN victories, including the departmental capitals of Managua (Herty Lewites), Matagalpa (Sadrach Zeledón) and Juigalpa (Erwin de Castilla), were to a large extent facilitated by the fact that the winning candidates were careful to distance themselves from the party canons. By contrast, in many municipalities where the elite of both parties imposed their candidates, they ended up splitting the disciplined vote that they had aimed for (see the article on Diriamba and Jinotepe in this issue). There is thus a hidden form of depolarization even among these parties’ supposedly captive voters. Certain voters valued good candidates and punished bad administrative efforts under the principal that "if you don’t flip the tortilla, it’ll burn."
The demonstration that presenting a heterodox leader distanced from Daniel Ortega can be an excellent way of winning votes is a notable advance for the FSLN. This know-how needs to be strengthened and disseminated among the winning mayors so they can grasp that distancing their administrations from Daniel Ortega could benefit both their municipal administrations and the party.
Abstention: The main protagonists of these elections were those who chose to abstain, which should rightfully deflect attention from the caudillos, candidates and parties. All victories achieved in these elections become relative when compared to the number of potential voters who abstained. Diagram 2 shows where registered voters put—or didn’t put—their vote.
Overwhelming and relativizing
Of the 2,748,204 registered voters, 1,531,916 cast valid votes and 1,216,288 either did not vote or spoiled their ballots. The PLC attracted 23.17% of the registered voters, the FSLN 22.48%, the PC 7.42% and the other parties (Christian Way and the two regional parties on the Atlantic Coast) 2.67% between them. By contrast, 44.26% abstained or spoiled their vote—a percentage nearly double what either the FSLN or the PLC were able to draw with all the effort and money put into their campaigns.
Despite an increase of 327,137 registered voters between 1996 and 2000, 302,928 fewer citizens voted on November 5 than in 1996. The abstention rate rose from 24.2% to 44.3%. Diagram 3 compares the quantity of votes cast in 1996 and 2000 by department.
The departments that saw the greatest drop in votes in absolute terms were Chontales, Managua, Chinandega, Masaya, León and Matagalpa. The reduction in Chontales and increase in the RAAS is at least partly explained by its two old municipalities and two new municipalities carved out of existing ones that passed over to the RAAS this year. Chontales also lost a municipality to Río San Juan.
The FSLN’s vote fell in León, Chinandega, Masaya, Granada and Carazo and rose especially in Managua, Matagalpa and Jinotega. The PLC’s vote was particularly lower in Granada, Chinandega, Managua and Boaco. It is evident that the decrease in the combined vote of both the FSLN and the PLC falls far short of the overall reduction of votes in each department. The same is true on the national level, where the drop in the PLC’s vote, for example, represents just 16% of the total vote reduction. This suggests that those who stayed away from the polls this time probably favored parties that either did not or were not allowed to run. The PC and the Christian Way would appear not to have offered these potential voters a good alternative either to their preferred party or to the two parties to the pact.
Diagram 4 compares the abstention levels for each department in 1996 and 2000. In 2000, those departments with the highest abstention levels (above the national average) were RAAN (63.80%), RAAS (54%), Río San Juan (51.88%), Chinandega (51.32%), Masaya (49.56%), Chontales (45.6%) and León (45.6%). Those departments in which the abstention levels increased most in comparison to 1996 were: Masaya by 32.5%, Granada by 32%, Chinandega by 29%, Carazo and León by 26% and the RAAN by 23%. In making this comparison it should be borne in mind that 1996 had a historically high abstention rate, given that the CSE seems to have lumped together genuine abstentions with the entire polling places for which the sacks of ballots were never turned in.
The RAAN and the RAAS have always had the highest abstention levels as many coast people feel that the elections are imposed by the politicians and businesspeople of the Pacific side of the country to facilitate the sacking of the Caribbean coast’s natural resources. The exclusion of the homegrown YATAMA party by the CSE only served to reinforce this conviction (see article on YATAMA in this issue). The manipulations by the CSE appeared to trample on ethnic rights and the result was a massive and foreseeable rejection of the elections.
Apart from the Río San Juan, the rest of the departments with high abstention levels and/or where there was an increase in abstentions are highly urbanized departments with a significant proportion of the total population concentrated in the departmental capital. They are also places where people are more informed about government corruption and the pact’s agreements and are thus infected with skepticism toward politics and the fictitious democracy in which we are living. The presence of Granada—the cradle of Conservatism—on the list of high abstention rates shows just how little pull the Conservatives actually have. The Conservative Party took only one municipality there.
The level of abstention could also be seen not so much as a shortcoming of the system but rather as one of the conditions for its functioning. In practical terms the delegitimization produced by a high abstention rate will not stop those elected from governing, moderate the triumphant posturing of the winners or mitigate the defeat of the losers. The figure will take its place in the columns of statistics and will have an impact among a small circle of thinkers at the most. Abstention rates are a weak weapon for politicians to fire at their adversaries, but are very valuable to certain groups, if they know how to use them to their advantage. In these elections, for example, the abstention level was undoubtedly more significant to the FSLN’s victories than the fragmentation of the rival vote.
Abstention turned out to be an induced form of self-exclusion. As voting is the simplest mechanism for stating a political opinion, the refusal of citizens to use this right condemns them to political limbo. This self-exclusion expresses a link between indifference and impotence, between disorganization and installed apathy. It is an indicator of the emaciated consensus the pact achieved and the design of a nation it is bequeathing us.
Few new opportunities for womenFew commentaries have focused on the results in terms of women elected to municipal posts, in which there was only a slight increase. The FSLN does not appear to have been stimulated into upping the number of women standing for municipal government by the very distinguished labor of two female Sandinista mayors—Felícitas Zeledón in Posoltega and Marta Adriana Peralta in Ocotal. In fact, it ended up reducing its female representation.
In the 1996 municipal elections a total of 10 female mayors (6.9%) and 22 female deputy-mayors (15.9%) were elected, while the new ones will include 15 female mayors (9.9%) and 28 female deputy mayors (18.5%). Of these, 12 mayors and 19 deputy mayors belong to the PLC, 3 mayors and 6 deputy mayors to the FSLN and 3 deputy mayors to the Conservative Party.
The percentages of women who ran as mayor and deputy-mayor for the PLC were 14.1% and 19%, respectively, and for the FSLN 8.5% and 12%. The percentages actually elected were 12.1% mayors and 19.2% deputy mayors for the PLC, and 5.9% and 11.8% for the FSLN. The fact that the percentage of women candidates was higher than the posts obtained by women in both cases fuels suspicions that female candidates were predominantly placed where they were likely to lose.
What were the main victories of the two parties to the pact?The PLC’s main triumph is that it has been able to consolidate itself as a party, increasing the number of municipal governments under its control by three. It has thus been able to increase its quota of territorial control without having to share it with any partners. And that is essentially the extent of its success. A series of corruption scandals, occurring almost on a daily basis, has eroded the ruling party and its prestige so much that it is rightly viewed as the loser. The FSLN has been able to camouflage its role as co-author of the fraudulent prohibitions, pacted corruption and concealed immunity to such an extent that it helped encourage apathy among the PLC’s own sympathizers.
The FSLN thus emerged with the real victories. Following a marked downward trend in the 1990 and 1996 elections, the FSLN won the majority of departmental capitals, snatching six from the Liberals, including the prize scalp of Managua which is key in terms of votes and as a political symbol. Another of the particularly interesting capitals the FSLN won away from the Liberals is Juigalpa, making it an FSLN foothold in the heart of a group of municipalities characterized by their anti-Sandinismo (see article on Juigalpa in this issue). Until this upset, the FSLN had not won a single municipality in the whole of the country’s fifth region, made up of the departments of Boaco and Chontales, since 1990—not even La Libertad, Daniel Ortega’s birthplace. The administration of harmony-seeking Sandinista mayor Erwin de Castilla in Juigalpa will offer an excellent opportunity to polish up the FSLN’s image in a particularly hostile environment.
Contrary to predictions that the majority of FSLN wins would be due to the fragmentation of the anti-Sandinista vote, as mentioned above the FSLN won 30 municipalities, some of them important ones, by a large enough margin that not even a Liberal-Conservative alliance could have beat it. It will not benefit in the same way from presidential elections, however, where the total votes from all municipalities are all that count. The 11 capitals that the FSLN won contain over 36% of the voters currently registered for the 2001 presidential elections.
The FSLN did not increase its votes just in urban areas. Its vote grew by 65,942 nationally, a relative victory nicely rounded off by the fact that the PLC received 49,577 fewer votes than in 1996.
Managua: The big springboardOf all of its triumphs, the one the FSLN savored most was Managua, the country’s political plum and springboard to the Presidency of the Republic, where it beat the PLC by 51,962 votes. It also increased its vote by 58,607 compared to 1996, while the Liberals lost 8,493 votes, figures that indicate just how important the capital is in any election. To exploit this gold mine of votes that could deliver it the Presidency of the Republic in 2001, the FSLN not only has to preserve its unconditional voters, but also move closer to lukewarm sympathizers, revive the interest of known vacillators and even win over some adversaries. The performance of Herty Lewites, the new Sandinista mayor in Managua, will allow the FSLN to send out signals to the technocrats and businessmen who always gather around when they smell power.
But the nature of the FSLN’s triumph can been discerned even in Managua, which was a relative landslide. The distribution of Liberal, Sandinista and Conservative councilors in Managua’s Municipal Council will make a real co-government more necessary here than in any other municipal government, as mayor-elect Herty Lewites himself recognizes. Any alliance between the PLC and the PC will force the FSLN to maintain a conciliatory posture.
The FSLN’s victory in Managua has fueled Sandinista triumphalism. Lewites’ campaign offer of property titles to squatter settlements apparently had a big impact in a municipality that is the permanent destination of rural immigration. But the FSLN’s success is relative. As the FSLN candidate in 2000, Lewites obtained 7,880 less than the combined total of votes obtained in 1996 by the FSLN and the popular subscription association for which Lewites then ran. In other words, the FSLN-Lewites duo in 2000 had less draw than each component separately in 1996. By the same token, the Conservatives could not hold onto the 98,424 votes PC president Pedro Solórzano pulled when he ran as Managua mayoral candidate for a popular subscription association in 1996; candidate William Báez, who stood in for Solórzano, disqualified by the CSE this year, drew 20,242 fewer. To put these reductions into perspective, however, the increase in registered voters, the converse increase in absenteeism, and most important of all the division of the capital into three municipalities must be taken into account.
The big Managua vote for the FSLN is critical to its positive figures. For example, while the FSLN won 31,029 more votes in the departmental capitals as a whole this year than in 1996, subtracting Managua reveals that the FSLN’s total vote in the other departmental capitals actually fell by 8,054. In the same way, the increase in registered voters camouflages how much abstentions were also used to punish the FSLN. By contrast, the PLC lost 54,802 votes overall in the departmental capitals, but Managua did not weigh so heavily in this decline.
Tight victories, technical drawsAlthough the FSLN crows about "crushing" victories in the departmental capitals, Diagram 5 shows that, with the exception of Managua, the differences were not very notable and in some cases were almost imperceptible. Only in León and Estelí was the gap greater than 4,000 votes. In eight capitals, it was less than 1,000 votes, and in three less than 400 votes: Ocotal (378), Granada (276) –where neither the PLC nor the FSLN won—and San Carlos (31). In fact, the victories of both the FSLN and the PLC were very tight in most municipalities, thus leading to numerous Florida-style recounts and Nicaraguan-style horse-trading. These near ties ensure a distribution of municipal councilors that should encourage the search for consensus.
The FSLN is weak in rural areas, which is presumably why it did not increase the total number of municipalities that it governs. The PLC, in turn, did increase the number under its control, which will enable it to keep up a permanent "electoral campaign" in a very extensive area. The FSLN also did not increase its vote proportionally to the increase in new voters. Its increase represents barely 20% of the volume of newly registered voters, less than the 22.48% of the electoral roll attracted by the party overall.
Even given its decline, the PLC beat the FSLN by 18,944 votes. While this figure is a long way from the 134,463-vote advantage that the Liberal Alliance had in 1996, it is enough to keep the PLC ahead of its main rival. If these had been presidential elections, the PLC would still have squeaked through to victory, this time by only 41% of the valid votes to 40%. Since voting becomes more polarized during presidential elections, this test run for the 2001 elections must be complemented by other considerations, such as the possibility that all other parties will join forces against the FSLN. Furthermore, the Liberal Alliance beat the FSLN by 9% in the municipal ballots in 1996, but by 13% in the presidential race. Even given the evident deterioration in the PLC’s position, it is not at all certain from this dress rehearsal that everything will be all right for the FSLN on opening night, giving it a curtain call to the power that it so covets.
José Luis Rocha and Thelma Martínez are Nitlapán-UCA Researchers.