An Election Script with Heavy-handed Special Effects
The parties have not yet revealed their programs and many uncertainties still remain about the filming. Without a decent script, those hogging the set are irresponsibly filling the void with special effects.
These days, when a movie has a lousy script, an unsubstantial plot and second-rate actors, glitzy special effects are often used—or abused, depending on how serious the problem is—to camouflage these major defects. Special effects keep filmgoers spellbound, terrorize them, shake them up or move them to tears, but in any event guarantee that they will stay glued to their seat. April was a month of special effects in Nicaragua’s electoral flick.
PLC bereft of original ideasThe first two national polls on this year’s elections, respectively conducted by Cinco-M&R and CID-Gallup in early March, showed the Sandinistas (FSLN) out in front, in the first poll with just under 31%, 4 points ahead of the governing Liberals (PLC), and in the second with 26%, a 5-point lead over both the PLC and the Conservatives (PC), who ran neck and neck with 21%. If those results caused a stir on the PLC film set, a new poll, commissioned by the PLC itself and done by Borge & Assoc. less than a month later, gave the Liberals apoplexy. It showed the FSLN actually winning on the first round with the minimum required 35%, while the PLC dropped to 25% and the PC all the way to 10%. This suggests that the PLC’s main line—"Let’s not divide the democratic vote!"—failed not only to shame the PC into an alliance but also to convince the electorate that the terms democratic and anti-Sandinista are synonymous and are embodied by the PLC.
Even more revealing of the PLC’s crisis is that the FSLN still pulled 34% and the PLC only climbed to 29% in a scenario in which only those two parties were on the ballot. Since the confessed aim of Alemán and his flunkies has been to eliminate the PC from the race, the PLC was devastated to discover that doing so, rather than coalesce the anti-Sandinista vote around its own banner, pushed over half of those who would have voted for the Conservatives to join the 30% who polled as undecided or abstainers in the three-way race. In a separate question, 47% declared that they had no party sympathies, far outstripping all other options.
The PLC publicly made light of the results, saying that its campaign hasn’t even started yet and its candidates have barely put in an appearance. It also pointed out that the FSLN had not topped the combined number of votes for the other two parties and that its share of the vote would be whittled down as the campaign got rolling. Nonetheless, panicky PLC politicians, spokespeople and activists in general, with President Alemán taking the lead, opted for scandalous special effects rather than original ideas to spice up their lackluster electoral script.
Scripting a horror filmIn hammering out their pact over the past two years, Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega sought to force a system in which they and their respective parties would dominate national politics and hoard the citizenry’s votes. They still have a way to go, and the media, which is both forming and reflecting growing public opinion in opposition, acts as a daily drag on their ambitions. Forcing a two-party system made up of the FSLN and the PLC on a society that is slowly but surely maturing, becoming more educated and more informed and thus more plural, requires all kinds of re-polarizing mechanisms. The pact’s authors have a common goal, which is to align society behind one of two banners—right/left, rich/poor, democracy/anti-democracy, good/bad, darkness/light, "red with no stain"/"red & black," no matter how simplistic this false representation of reality may be—and may the best caudillo win. Having the entire population lined up behind one of two poles of thought and action and two ballot boxes serves the interests of those represented by both Ortega and Alemán. For the moment, the main difference is that Alemán’s circle is being more heavy-handed in its use of polarizing mechanisms, determined to transfer its own primordial fear of the Sandinistas to the electorate.
Regrettable and worrying signs of this effort abounded this month, bringing back memories of the war and the political violence of the early postwar years. On April 9, an armed band murdered the husband, wife and three teenage children of a Liberal peasant family in Siuna—first shooting then decapitating them—and kidnapped two other family members. The vicious crime was just the latest of many that have terrorized the Mining Triangle (Siuna-Bonanza-Rosita) for some years now. Those suspected of the massacre once belonged to the postwar rearmed group of Sandinista origins known as the Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC), which demobilized in December 1997 following negotiations with the Alemán government. Its three top leaders were later killed in circumstances that have never been fully explained.
Only hours after the crime was reported, President Alemán personally pinned it on the FSLN, calling these bands its armed wing. He repeated his accusation several more times even though the National Police chief declared that his institution had no evidence to back claims that these FUAC remnants (some 35 men organized into various criminal bands) have any current links to the FSLN.
Sandinista party leaders in Siuna filed an unprecedented suit in a Managua court on April 30, accusing the President of slander. Alemán retorted that the accusation against him was a "smokescreen blown by the Sandinistas to hide the macabre nature of their followers."
Meanwhile, Minister of Government José Marenco Cardenal submitted "proof" to the Office of Attorney General that Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, founder and president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, is a FUAC accomplice and hence linked to criminal activities. The evidence amounted to nothing more than a tendentious report drafted by the ministry itself plus communications between former FUAC members and the respected human rights activist when she was mediating the release of a kidnapped Canadian engineer in 1999. After several days, the attorney general dismissed the evidence.
What does such President Alemán’s declarations triggered a national scandal. Flushed with the smell of blood, his speeches attempted to terrorize voters with what he called the "Attilas of the past," threatening that if the FSLN wins the elections it will submerge the country in "a culture of atrocity, savagery and barbarianism." The pro-government media and other Liberal politicians followed suit: if the FSLN—or Daniel Ortega, to be precise—wins, not only will the country be in for a period of economic uncertainties—this timeworn accusation is perhaps the only issue on which there is already significant national consensus—but it will witness a new wave of killings, torture, war and mourning as well.
US government officials are aiding and abetting this disgraceful political-psychological campaign to equate the FSLN with war, although they dress their message in a finer, more diplomatic style. US Ambassador Oliver Garza’s various expressions of "concern" about a possible FSLN victory are a welcome addition to the Liberal script, as are similar statements issued by top officials of the Bush Jr. administration. Both the US spokespeople and their Nicaraguan Liberal counterparts know the electoral value of reminding Nicaraguans that a government without US endorsement will not be allowed to govern, quite independent of whether it was democratically chosen by its own citizenry.
The lead actor on the PLC set has taken this psychological-political irresponsibility to a new level: in one of his first post-poll campaign appearances, PLC candidate Enrique Bolaños, speaking before Resistance veterans in Estelí and taking a leaf from President Ronald Reagan’s propaganda manual, declared himself a contra, announcing that when he takes office "there will be a contra like me in the presidential chair for the first time, and we are going to govern especially for the contras." How much more irresponsible could a presidential hopeful get in a country with so many unhealed wounds from a war that would never have reached the proportions it did were it not for the unyielding and even illegal US financing, strategizing and training? A government "for the contras" would sideline the majority of society and directly oppose at least a third of the population that continues to identify itself as Sandinista. Where do Liberals find the gall to call this exclusionary rhetoric—and perhaps even proposal—democratic? It represents a profound rolling back of the efforts of Violeta Chamorro’s administration to bring about reconciliation following the end of the war in 1990.
What electoral dividends does the PLC hope to gain from such a campaign of emotional terror? The municipal election results last year made it clear that, except for León and parts of the Segovias, rural Nicaragua is a Liberal stronghold. It would seem neither necessary nor appropriate to intensify the fear of this cauldron of sure votes. To whom is this campaign directed, then, if not to them? Just over half of the registered voters are between 16 and 30 years old, and thus have little or no experiential memory of the war and the shortages that the Liberal campaign feels compelled to evoke every electoral year, with all the scriptwriting license to distort that campaigning affords it. But to be young is to be impervious to fear. It is to look forward, not backward; it is temerity, rebellion and, if nothing else, turning a deaf ear to the uninspired counsel of the elderly.
For all that, one must wonder whether this campaign would be so virulent if the FSLN candidate were anyone other than Daniel Ortega or if it were not known how tight his grip over the party is. On the other hand, if US intelligence gathering is up to par, it must by known in Washington that the FSLN has been taken hostage not by leftist radicals but by nouveau riche Sandinista capitalists. Will this PLC fear-mongering campaign, combined with the invasive declarations from the northern giant really help fill the PLC ballot box? Might it not boomerang, galvanizing justifiable sentiments of nationalist pride and increasing Ortega’s votes among non-Danielista Sandinistas and making even more unaffiliated and already apathetic voters turn away in disgust from Nicaragua’s future in any electoral scenario, seeking escape along other avenues?
An unanticipated and In the same days in which President Alemán was accusing the FSLN of the murders in Siuna and declaring that he himself was under threat of death from the Sandinistas, society was privy to another unexpected special effect in the death-threat genre. Not to be upstaged, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo announced at the end of his homily in the Sunday Mass celebrated in Managua’s Cathedral on April 28 that he had information about a plan to murder Central American bishops, cardinals and priests who are fighting against abortion, himself obviously included. Pulling no punches, he linked this plan to feminist NGOs and collectives working to defend the sexual and reproductive rights of Nicaraguan women. The denunciation, amplified by the national media and even picked up by some international services, electrified the already tense atmosphere. Adding their own quota of charged ions, politicians of all stripes, with Obando’s erstwhile nemesis Daniel Ortega in the lead, communicated their concern and their solidarity to the cardinal.
irresponsible special effect
Perhaps seeking to increase the suspense or perhaps having second thoughts about his evidence in the face of the women’s movement’s heated but dignified denial, the cardinal repeatedly refused to reveal his sources to the National Police, the obviously appropriate authority to investigate such macabre charges; he just insisted repeatedly that they were "reliable." Days later, the media, accustomed to the lack of institutionality and thus increasingly skilled at taking on the role of police, auditors and investigators, ferreted out the cardinal’s sources. A couple of participants in a Central American seminar on sexual rights held in Managua on April 4 had taped and sent the cardinal the presentation by prestigious Guatemalan journalist Laura Asturias, in which she had indeed commented on the need to eliminate priests, cardinals and bishops… but only from the design of public policies on reproductive health.
The Autonomous Women’s Movement of Nicaragua and representatives of NGOs working with women lucidly challenged the cardinal’s behavior and announced that they were studying the possibility of taking him to court for slander and damages.
Camera tricks The Liberal producers and production assistants still have a number of questions about the script, the main one being just how much support their grumpy old presidential choice can squeeze from the public. Will Enrique Bolaños demonstrate more independence from President Alemán once he is definitely registered as the PLC candidate and all spotlights are on him? In his electoral spin through the United States, the former Vice President finally dared point out two "fundamental errors" that Alemán has committed during his soon-to-end administration: not getting rid of "bad elements" in his government in time and not clarifying "his financial situation" to the citizenry. Inside Nicaragua, Bolaños has insisted that Alemán is not corrupt because "they have never been able to prove any act of corruption," avoiding any mention of the Nicaraguan judicial system’s demonstrated fragility and lack of independence. To distance himself from Alemán in other sensitive areas, Bolaños has announced that when he is President he will annul "what is now known and repudiated as the pact." Exactly how does he plan to do that? It would appear from his statements that he is thinking along the lines of forcing a single-party system to replace the forced two-party one.
with light and shade
Both Ortega and Bolaños have stated that, when they win, they will reform the Constitution: Ortega in order to install a "parliamentary system," without specifying what that might mean, and Bolaños in order to quash a pact that gave institutional spaces to the Sandinistas.
For now at least, the possibility of a Bolaños administration is perceived as a kind of "interim government," with Alemán in control of the legislative body until 2006—or earlier, if the constitutional reform so determines—when he would run for President again. Some Liberal politicians who are not fans of the current President warn that "Bolaños will only be in government to keep the seat warm for Alemán." If the electoral script is not yet fully written, the post-electoral one is shot through with unknowns.
The film needs the green sealEnthused and confident due to the sizable and growing advantage that Daniel Ortega is showing since the first polls without even formally launching his campaign, the film promoters on the Sandinista set are milking every advantage they can from the crude errors of their Liberal counterparts. Faced with the possibility that the Liberal magistrates on the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) could eliminate the Conservative Party from the race simply by rejecting the necessary number of its support signatures, the FSLN is passionately defending the PC’s right to participate. "Prohibiting the Conservative Party, would be like staging a coup d’état," warned FSLN campaign spokesperson Edwin Castro. "The FSLN would oppose any such a break with institutionality and there would be no elections here."
This defense of the PC’s participation is not only explained by the fact that it pulls votes from the PLC, which could facilitate an FSLN victory in the first round. It is even more important for the FSLN that the process itself appear legitimate. If only the two parties in the pact participate, the election results could be more easily challenged. Particularly with the US government making such unpleasant noises, the FSLN is in dire need of a legitimacy that would endorse the electoral victory it is beginning to see as in the bag.
Meanwhile, the FSLN is training 100,000 people to do house-to-house canvassing and to defend each vote at each voting table as party monitors. Daniel Ortega continues to insist that he lost in 1996 because of fraud. In search of still more intimidating special effects, Edwin Castro warned that "if there is another fraud like the one in 1996, this country will be bathed in blood!" That was probably not the best chord to strike in Nicaragua’s already tense climate, but a process with such exclusionary origins as this one needs all the legitimacy it can get, and nothing serves this purpose better than ensuring the inclusion of the Conservatives.
Legal fiction special effectsEdwin Castro’s saber rattling to the contrary, the FSLN screenwriters have sprinkled their script with more elements of suspense than of terror. In response to Alemán’s reiterated accusations that the FSLN is responsible for the massacre in Siuna, Daniel Ortega seconded the threat to sue him for libel and slander. It was a powerful blow for effect and was followed up by action. But Alemán shot back via the media—not the court, as would be more appropriate—that he would not give up his immunity to respond to such "nonsense."
Softening the effect by clarifying that the goal was not to encroach upon Alemán’s rights by stripping him of his immunity but to force him to retract his false accusation, Ortega then announced during an International Workers’ Day event on May 1 that he would give up his own immunity to face any charge Alemán wanted to make against him in court. It was another macho breast-baring blow for effect that no good guy-bad guy flick can do without.
In this unanticipated but spectacular legal-fiction sequence, Daniel Ortega’s mere mention of the words lawsuit and immunity immediately reminded the media and public opinion of the sexual abuse charge filed against him by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez three years ago, which Ortega avoided by hiding behind his own parliamentary immunity. To get away with it, Ortega counted on the gullible faith of the Sandinista grass roots and the complicity of both Liberal and Sandinista legislators, who conspired to bury the case in the National Assembly archives.
Ethical special effectsIn the heat of the campaign, PLC politicians and President Alemán himself, opting to forget that tactical legislative alliance, revived the case with declarations of ethical fiction. FSLN politicians, meanwhile, minimized the current importance of Zoilamérica’s charge, encouraged by that incredible social impunity that allowed them to put forward a candidate for nothing less than the presidency itself who was accused of such a grave crime. Could such a thing have occurred in other, more developed countries? "Man-on-the-street analysts" opine that "only in Nicaragua can a figure like Daniel Ortega hold so much ground."
How badly might Ortega’s campaign be sullied by a case that, despite immunity and impunity, has remained alive in Nicaraguan memory, forcing society to coexist with doubt and disrespect for its right to know the truth? Is Ortega cooking up some way to clean his image of this stain in the coming months?
What ethical fiction effects will he turn to? A quick faked judicial process set up to find the case invalid by default? The same political argument that he and his minions used with such success at the beginning, that the accusation was nothing more than a defamatory plot against him? A symbolic exit, making a theatrical gesture of public repentance, sufficiently ambiguous to restore and even puff up his current born-again image of being "converted to the good road"? Or will the candidate simply maintain that irresponsible silence that confirms the truth of the charge and that has induced so many other victimizers and victimized to remain silent about the social cancer of incest and other forms of sexual abuse against women and children in Nicaragua?
Corruption in the scriptThe PLC’s low ratings in the polls are due mainly to the corruption cases linked to high government officials and to President Alemán himself, an omnipresent activist in the party of which he is honorary president. The heavy shadow of presidential corruption falls long on candidate Bolaños wherever he goes.
The FSLN has never taken up the struggle against the corruption that has been so institutionalized by the Liberal government. Doing so would be more than a little awkward since the lack of transparency of so many of its own historic leaders—today candidates for the National Assembly—is as well known as the activities they have tried to cover up. It is also awkward because of the shared corruption in the Alemán-Ortega pact’s hidden agenda.
For all that, the FSLN cannot pass up the opportunity to get some electoral mileage out of the government’s eroding popularity due to its record lack of transparency. And, sure enough, this month a change could be seen. In a press conference on April 16, Comptroller Luis Angel Montenegro, elected by the FSLN to sit on the 5-member leadership body of the Office of Comptroller General, challenged President Alemán to demonstrate to the nation how he, a poor man who sold eggs and charcoal, has become the richest man in Nicaragua in the past 10 years, all the while being a public official. Days earlier the media had documented the construction of a heliport at Alemán’s hacienda, which he admitted having built with public money for his personal security. It was discovered that the cost of the work was not even reflected in the budget, and Montenegro announced that he would investigate such an evident case of corruption. In the press conference, Montenegro said that corruption in the country is reaching "incredible and unmanageable levels." Not since the times of Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín has public opinion heard such forceful denunciations in both form and content.
A few days later, deputy human rights ombudsman Julián Corrales, like Montenegro placed in this new state institution by the FSLN, made a similar demand in a similarly no-nonsense tone. Following these declarations, the tensions that had been building between Alemán and the president of the Office of Comptroller General, Guillermo Argüello Poessy, a Liberal, heated up even more. At the core of these tensions are the fat fees paid to high government officials for attending multiple board meetings of public institutions often during office hours, which Argüello has called illegal and Alemán steadfastly defends. All of this brouhaha put the corruption issue back in the headlines. Dissidents on the National Assembly’s PLC bench dusted off the initiative to strip the President of his immunity so he could be tried in court for fraud, misuse of public funds and illicit enrichment. One of them, Leonel Téller, further proposed that the comptroller’s office audit the 56 properties that Alemán owns all over Nicaragua and whose value has increased greatly due to the addition of paved highways and roads, running water, telephone lines, electricity and other infrastructure paid for with state funds. Sergio García Quintero, another PLC dissident, estimated Alemán’s personal wealth at some US$250 million. On April 27, the five comptrollers unanimously decided to investigate the case of the presidential heliport.
Lights, camera, corruption!The centerpiece, in fact virtually the only viable promise of any non-demagogic electoral program in a country as indebted and limited by the imposed economic model as Nicaragua, has to be the fight against corruption in all its manifestations. The fight has to include influence peddling as well as the swindles and embezzlements that have so often hit the front pages. Austerity must also be imposed in government, which means an end to double payrolls, indemnifications, mega-salaries, the multiple honoraria for board members and all the other sumptuous privileges enjoyed by top officials. A serious program to eradicate extreme wealth, especially that flaunted by those who should be austere public servants, is as important as any poverty-eradication program.
It is a pipe dream to think that the PLC candidates controlled by Alemán might decide to take up this issue. Nor can Daniel Ortega and the FSLN’s legislative candidates do so with any credibility or even a straight face. This is obviously the task allotted to FSLN vice presidential candidate Agustín Jarquín, whose main responsibility would appear to be raising this banner with clean hands rather than pulling votes for the FSLN. The pressing question is how much of the austerity and honesty that Jarquín is touting today as a credible candidate will he be able to implement if he gets into the vice presidential office, representing a party controlled by leaders with such a questionable history on issues of transparency?
Luis Angel Montenegro’s declarations and the growing distance that chief comptroller Guillermo Argüello Poessy has been putting between himself and President Alemán have rekindled some hope in that government auditing institution. Meanwhile, the FSLN’s need to take an electoral stance on the Alemán government’s corruption, the "unmanageable level" of that corruption and the unexpected human face, rebellious spirit and professional qualifications of Montenegro and Argüello, two of the five collegial comptrollers, have put the democratic themes of control of public resources and of transparency back under the filmmaker’s hot lights. To make matters worse for the Liberal government, it is a lot harder to mask these particular themes by creating sequences of pure fiction and deceptive special effects.
The making of a starThe FSLN is evidently regrouping its grassroots base, and organizing and motivating it for the electoral work ahead, not to mention preparing it for a return to power under the aegis of Daniel Ortega. Although the FSLN has not given the slightest sign of opening to Sandinistas who are not loyal to Daniel, and has even cultivated disparagement and intolerance of all critical and dissident thinking, the polls are showing that both pro-Daniel and anti-Daniel Sandinista voters are lining up behind his candidacy. Would this vote have unified around an alternative candidate? Would the PLC’s campaign of fear be so justified and produce so much echo? From the other side of the question, would popular culture, which is so rooted in caudillo figures and behaviors, back a non-caudillo Sandinista leader with the same devotion? Opinions on these questions are divided, and we will probably never know the real answers.
What we do know is that various factors explain the closing of ranks around Ortega’s candidacy. First and foremost is force: all other alternative candidates have been systematically excluded (elimination of other Sandinista parties, exclusion or disqualification of other Sandinista candidates, fraud in the FSLN’s internal primary, etc.).
With Ortega’s path to stardom thus cleared of competition, Alemán’s erosion and the characteristics of the candidate that he chose to follow him have further encouraged the backing for Ortega. By age and by ideology, Bolaños is not attractive either to the youthful majority of voters or to the poor majorities. Ortega is also favored by the fact that the population is beginning to grasp the link between corruption and poverty, and identifies the PLC with corruption more than it does the FSLN. This particular visibility is the down side of incumbency. The confrontational and challenging Liberal message also favors Ortega because it resuscitates Sandinista nostalgia, encourages revanchism and revives convictions around the totem of the FSLN’s red and black flag. He is additionally favored by the growing conviction that the FSLN can and will win. It is a constant of the human condition to bet on a winner.
Within the FSLN ranks, Daniel Ortega’s candidacy was questioned for a long time by militants, sympathizers and tendencies, including the self-labeled "Left" of the party, and by other dissident groups and individuals who have left the party or are still fighting the good fight from within. It was mainly questioned on the pragmatic grounds that "with Daniel we can’t win the elections." Even his brother Humberto went public with this doubt. In the months prior to sealing his candidacy officially, everyone, or nearly everyone, carefully avoided wounding the leader by engaging in debates over even more fundamental disadvantages: his authoritarian and anti-democratic style, his conception of power, his abusive manipulation of the most impoverished sectors, his murky ethical record. They stuck to strictly electoral criteria.
The polls have virtually silenced even such timid internal dissidence. And if the electoral results favor the FSLN, they could close altogether the narrow spaces that the critics still have. The greatest loser as a result of this cautious timidity has been Sandinismo itself, and Nicaragua needs Sandinismo. The biggest winner today in the polls and probably tomorrow in the vote count is the FSLN, which no longer represents Sandinismo, even if it might seem that it does.
The PC campaign: The production assistants and the technical team on the Conservative Party’s film set have been grappling with so many script uncertainties that they have had no time to think about special effects. They may even have decided to avoid them, which would speak in their favor. The first great unknown over which the Conservative scriptwriters have no control is whether they will even be allowed to appear on the ballot. The pressure from the international community and the FSLN makes it extremely dicey for the PLC to exclude the party of the green banner, just as it was in the municipal elections, but the next question is nearly as fundamental. If it does get on the ballot, will its results at the voting table be respected? The Conservative Party has no influence in a Supreme Electoral Council that has continuously displayed arbitrariness and bipartisan bias, and will almost certainly act in a polarized manner during the vote count.
No special effects and no fear
After the PLC’s discouraging showing in the polls, no pressure is likely to succeed in stopping the CSE from prohibiting the participation of PC vice presidential candidate José Antonio Alvarado on the trumped-up excuse that, by allegedly not renouncing his US nationality in time, he failed to fulfill the requisites. Alvarado, a Liberal, is pulling more votes from his former party to the Conservative ticket than Bolaños, a Conservative, is pulling from his former party to the PLC. Alvarado does not share Bolaños’ visceral and anti-democratic hatred of Sandinismo, which could persuade certain undecided voters to opt for the PC, reducing the abstentions. Eliminating Alvarado is not only a strategic PLC objective but also a personal objective of Alemán, who has gone so far as to compare Alvarado to none other than the 19th-century US filibuster William Walker, who invaded and briefly ran Nicaragua. How effective will national and international pressure on Alvarado’s behalf be?
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are claiming their own unique niche in the campaign. Among the three presidential candidates, 60% consistently reject Daniel Ortega’s leadership, with his return to power inspiring fear and uncertainty even among his sympathizers. The continuation of the Alemán government through Bolaños is consistently rejected by 45%. Conversely, fewer than 2% say that the coming to power of the Conservatives would trigger fear, and the PC is building its campaign on this perception. Party leaders stress that they will not be confrontational, will not polarize, will not offend anyone and will not even respond to insults. "We want our slot on the ballot to be one of reconciliation," reiterate PC presidential candidate Noel Vidaurre, party president Mario Rapaccioli and other well-known leaders.
Despite this message of tolerance and respect, so necessary if Nicaraguan society is to make any progress and the country is to develop, the Conservatives are still not building an option that even appears to be, much less genuinely is, an all-embracing third way. Is there really the necessary clarity and determination to build it? Does the PC have any strategy to attract the sizable segment of Sandinistas who are not Ortega loyalists? These are fundamental questions for a script that must not only inspire no fear but also attract and convince all of those who have not lost their social sensitivity, those who are tired of pacts and party bosses and aspire to other, more responsible ways of conducting political life.
Time will tellThe next in the endless chain of surprises in this electoral theater of the absurd was Ortega’s visit to Cardinal Obando to register his concern about the possible prohibition of Alvarado’s candidacy. While the FSLN’s main objective is to pull all votes away from the PLC that it can and to give the process a legitimate veneer, the party would also benefit from a high abstention rate, which would increase its chances of winning in the first round of a three-party race.
This opens the possibility of a series of attempts to disqualify vice presidential candidates, which would produce the desired special effect of generating confusion, disgust and thus abstention among the electorate. Might the PLC attempt to prohibit Jarquín, on the grounds of the unresolved legal case against him by Alemán but in reality seeking to trade its votes in the CSE to save him for the FSLN magistrates’ votes against Alvarado? Would the PC respond to the loss of Alvarado by arguing that the PLC vice presidential candidate José Rizo must be prohibited for the same reason (in his case for not renouncing his Chilean nationality)? This act of the script is not yet written, so it is prudent to speculate no more until the scripters announce that the plot has been turned in and approved and the parts rehearsed. The closing date for candidate approval by the CSE is the end of June
Special effects: Many scenes and whole sequences of the script are still up in the air. The main protagonists, those who designed the good guy-bad guy scenario in the first place, will strive to outdo each other in fiction fight sequences, tense scenes, verbal duels, false parries, convulsive pronouncements and legitimating victimization—all very theatrical and overacted. Meanwhile, out of the glare of the stage lighting, the same old pacts and agreements will continue their course.
Reasons and risks
The main screenwriters are well aware of Nicaraguans’ zeal for televised wrestling matches and how few Nicaraguans know that the spectacular throws by those muscled and masked clowns are totally staged. Nonetheless, such razzle-dazzle is still extremely profitable for the business organizers because it guarantees a passionate audience that pays to see the spectacle, takes sides and bets big bucks.
The electoral film has been designed with this in mind. It is possible, however, that by abusing the fake blows and the violent special affects, the producers could lose control of the filming. The coming months will reveal the risks of such a dangerous gamble.