Between Two Evils and Many Dreams
Some will vote with conviction, others with resignation,
still others will not vote at all. But they all have a dream
The official kick-off date for this year’s electoral campaign was August 18. Despite the fact that two of the three political parties running this time have not stopped campaigning since the last elections, the occasion was as enthusiastic and fanatic as it was tense and polarized. The moment cried out for reflection by the citizenry, but the lights of the spectacle and the insistence of its chords, however unmelodious, were hard to resist.
A few days later, a new poll by the well-known firm Borge & Associates unexpectedly showed Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) candidate Enrique Bolaños out in front. Although his 2.8 lead is within the poll’s margin of error and thus a technical tie, it is the first time he has overtaken Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) candidate Daniel Ortega. These results, blown up by the Liberals and played down by the Sandinistas, added a new dose of enthusiasm, fanaticism, tension and polarization to the competition.
With the progressive closing of Ortega’s early 7-point lead over the past two or three months, the elections are now shaping up as a very close race between the former Sandinista President and Bolaños. A second shift is that the large undecided and abstentionist blocs that had kept the percentage of both choices low have shrunk significantly over the same period. A third is that most of those who opted for the Conservative Party (PC) abandoned it after the candidates on its first presidential ticket withdrew.
The combination of these last two factors has boosted the candidates’ percentage high enough (both are hovering around the 40% mark) that a second round will probably be unnecessary. Ortega went into these elections fearing he would not be able to break the 35-point barrier, and knowing he could not win a second round with the forces of the Right united against him. Through his pact with Alemán, he thus negotiated a reform to the electoral law in which any presidential candidate who gets 40%—or 35% as long as the first runner-up does not exceed 30%—wins on the first round. The race will now go to the candidate who can pry the most votes from the roughly 20% who are still stubbornly sitting on the fence this close to the November 4 election day.
Meanwhile, each day brings new definitions, new alignments and new surprises in a race in which the end appears to justify any means and principles are the only clear loser so far. Thus one can find Conservatives climbing aboard the Liberal bandwagon, Liberals on the Conservatives’ legislative slate, Sandinistas backing the PLC, former contras linked up with the FSLN and previously vociferous anti-pact politicians now firmly allied to one or another of the parties to the pact.
Even boxer Alexis Argüello and Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero, "El Chigüín," son of the dictator brought down by the Sandinista revolution, have weighed in. At the end of August, in a campaign event in Matagalpa in which representatives of the former contras participated, Ortega announced that some thousand former Somocista National Guard members living in Guatemala and in Miami had expressed their willingness to support the FSLN’s electoral ticket. An FSLN spokesperson added that these former military officers had been loyal to "Chigüín," who had headed a special crack unit of the National Guard during his father’s government, and that he was interested in a rapprochement with the FSLN. Days before these declarations, Social Christian Agustín Jarquín, Ortega’s running mate, had visited Somoza in Guatemala to express the FSLN’s desire for such a rapprochement. Following the Matagalpa revelations, Somoza denied that he was encouraging former Guard members to join the FSLN campaign and said that PLC candidate Enrique Bolaños was the best person to govern Nicaragua. Ortega’s declarations triggered controversy within the Sandinista media, although the opposition was very measured, given the FSLN’s homogenized electoral discourse. President Alemán said he considered the proposal logical, calling it an encounter "between two dictators."
Is half of Nicaragua choosing the lesser evil and the other half the least bad? Is all of Nicaragua choosing between two different evils? Or is a large part of Nicaragua just dreaming about how they might be able to transmute these two evils into "goods"? Since the answers to such questions are getting ever harder to analyze, it seems appropriate to let one’s imagination just fly, to dream. It is as much a human right to dream as to vote.
One road with The objectives of the Alemán-Ortega pact’s legal-electoral aspects, consummated in January last year, have been fully achieved through anti-democratic reforms to the Electoral Law and then through the new law’s anti-democratic administration. The possibility of popular petition candidates—and thus of the emergence of independent local political leaders—was eliminated; the legal status of various existing political parties was canceled while new ones were denied party status and any third candidates who posed a threat were prohibited from running on one pretext or the other. The pact’s philosophy is anything but pluralist. It sees small parties as dwarfs, medium sized ones as a nuisance, and any with the potential for growth as a menace. It aspires to share out power between the pact’s authors alone, be damned what anyone else wants.
It did not take long for the PLC and the FSLN—always strictly following the letter of the laws they had forged—to systematically eliminate all attempts at a broad-based third option, successively called the third way, universal ballot option, broad alliance, etc. The only survivor was the Conservative Party, and then only because the FSLN members on the highly politicized Supreme Electoral Council broke ranks when their PLC colleagues tried to eliminate it. But, no matter; the PC has been battered into irrelevance by the pressure on it from both the national and international right wing to prevent a Sandinista victory, abetted by disputes over the same issue within the party itself. The pressure ranged from warnings to steer clear of any alliance with independent Sandinistas and other center-left and progressive forces to strong suggestions that the Conservatives drop out altogether to avoid splitting the rightwing vote and handing the FSLN victory on a platter.
Amid all this fuss, the citizenry, both the convinced and the resigned, have been forced to line up on one side or the other of the only road left open. The convinced are sure the two sides of the road lead to very different destinations, while the resigned and uncertain can only hope with all their hearts that it is true.
The candidates fiddle Nicaraguans’ worst uncertainties grow out of the economic situation. Nicaragua has historically lagged way behind in every aspect. The rural sector has been left to its fate; what little industry existed is disappearing; and it would take years to build the necessary infrastructure and healthy and educated population required to create a service economy. On the political side, politicians and business leaders of all ideological stripes seem not to have outgrown their age-old shortsightedness, favoritism and conception of the state as simply booty to be pillaged for personal enrichment. The republic is the kingdom of impunity.
while Nicaragua burns
Nicaragua’s gross domestic product would have to grow 5% annually for the next 50 years to re-attain the productive levels of 1978, before our historic underdevelopment was intensified to the extreme by the US-financed war to destroy the revolution, the changes wreaked by the "globalizing economic democracy" that followed, and this government’s massive corruption. For now, we are totally dependent on the remittances sent back by our emigrants; the credits, donations and projects of international cooperation and uncalculated amounts of laundered drug money. Meanwhile, the foreign debt remains unsustainable despite all the restructuring and write-offs over the past decade and even the recently instituted initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). In fact, it continues to grow.
New elements are continually being added to this depressing economic backdrop. Following the bankruptcy of eight banks in recent years, the largest three of which (Interbank, Bancafé and BANIC) went under in the last twelve months, the country has been unable to stop the recessive spiral. Production has contracted; international reserve levels are at a five-year low; tax collection is down; international agencies are freezing their aid; the domestic debt is skyrocketing; over half the municipal governments are bankrupt; the state is for sale at liquidation prices but is running out of assets to privatize; and its institutions cannot pay their suppliers or their own employees, so contracts are going unfulfilled. The crisis triggered by the drastic fall of international coffee prices and by the drought in the north and northwest in recent months added yet more drama when it was discovered that thousands of peasant families, who normally suffer from chronic hunger, are now virtually starving. The coffee crisis is intense and will not abate any time soon.
The country is, in a word, insolvent, yet neither Bolaños nor Ortega touches on what this means. They feed voters’ imagination and dreams with promises that camouflage the tragedy or simplistically blame it on what the adversary did or did not do. When waxing on about his "Promised Land," Ortega does not mention that it will only be found at the end of an arduous, austere, decades-long march through the desert. For his part, Bolaños fails to mention the historical structural injustices perpetrated against the poor by the social class he represents so well.
What can we expect of No matter which party wins these elections, no solution will get us beyond the worst of this mess in under five years (a full presidential term), and at best it would only lay the groundwork for improvements in the distant future. Even that would require previously hammering out a national project that both Bolaños and Ortega—and Alemán?—can agree to that genuinely considers the long term.
the PLC or the FSLN?
Convinced voters trust that, if the party of their choice wins, the economic dramas will soon be behind us and we will begin to feel real improvements. Resigned voters understand that, whatever the result, the changes will be few and imperceptible.
What can we expect from each party in the best of cases? If the FSLN wins, we can expect it to offer greater social sensitivity and a greater negotiating capacity to persuade the international financing institutions to be more flexible and make adjustments to lessen the social effects of some of the economic dramas. If the PLC wins, we can expect greater managerial experience, more ability to attract investments and a seamless economic continuity with less uncertainty, which would ensure the stability needed to avoid falling back even further. But that is only assuming the best intentions and the best scenarios.
What’s real?Without doubting one iota of the gravity of these structural and temporary problems afflicting Nicaragua, one must still ask whether the bankruptcy and the outgoing Alemán government’s administrative disorder is the real thing or is at least partly induced by the elections? Is there truly no money in the government coffers or is what is left being siphoned off for the PLC campaign and other partisan projects?
The FSLN and the PLC are spending obscene amounts of money to obtain the triumph each proclaims, but within their respective leadership it is possible to differentiate certain individuals who hunger for that victory and are working hard to obtain it and those who would prefer to lose and are working for that. Assuming responsibility for governing such an ungovernable country is a task for heroes and apostles of public service, virtually extinct species in Nicaragua’s political jungle. The real trick is to lose the presidency but maintain power, and the Alemán-Ortega pact paved the way for the top echelons of both parties to do just that. The hypothesis that President Alemán and his closest circle are tolerating if not propitiating much of the current economic debacle and disorder is not preposterous. Is there some logic behind this "final chaos" other than Alemán’s anti-Sandinista fear that the PLC could lose the elections and thus make real the slogan "After me, the deluge"? There is another logic, but it grows out of an exercise of imagination that considers the conviction, the "dream" of a sector of Liberals who do not support Alemán that is summed up in the idea that "Bolaños is not like Alemán."
What does Alemán want?Alemán personally controls all the PLC structures thanks to his ongoing and skillful naming of people to party posts based on perks, opportunities and even abetting them in criminal acts. He has thus surrounded himself with people who either fear him or are indebted to him, but in either case will be loyal to him and can be kept in line with threats and blackmail. There is no possibility of democratizing a PLC in which the majority of convention delegates and departmental and municipal party hacks are also public employees too deeply in debt to demonstrate any independence from Alemán.
Alemán’s current expectations have nothing to do with either developing Nicaragua or democratizing his party. They are centered on nothing other than returning to the presidency in 2006, and given his iron grip on the PLC he might just be able to pull it off. To make his reelection a reality, Alemán’s original design for this year’s presidential ticket was not Enrique Bolaños, his Vice President for the first four years, but the even more flexible Iván Escobar Fornos.
Bolaños, historically a Conservative, was put at the head of the Liberal ticket because that was the condition for big Conservative capital to switch their campaign funding to the incumbent PLC, which they saw as the only political machinery powerful enough to defeat Daniel Ortega. "Alemán accepted Bolaños, but doesn’t put much trust in him," Liberal communicator and jurist León Núñez explained to envío, adding that "the conflict between them is in the larval stage." Núñez knows the PLC’s backstage intrigues well and is one of the most honest and lucid writers on the subject—which is why Alemán has shut him out.
Is Bolaños like Alemán or not?The FSLN’s electoral propaganda, particularly Ortega’s speeches, generally blames the Alemán government for all aspects of the economic crisis and personally blames Bolaños for all the corruption because he never denounced it during his four years as Vice President much less did anything as principled as resigning. The centerpiece of the Sandinista campaign is that Bolaños is like Alemán.
The "dream" of non-Alemán Liberals is based on the belief that there are notable differences between the two. Letting one’s imagination fly free again, it is possible to conclude that Alemán does not want Bolaños to win for this very reason. One might even imagine Alemán actually preferring to will such an economic crisis as this one to Daniel Ortega, who will have a tough time making any dent in it, so Alemán can return as the great savior in 2006—or earlier, if possible. As León Núñez comments, "To be able to return in 2006, Alemán is leaving office with the economy in a shambles; he is acting very suspiciously in the economic arena."
Bolaños’ project It was also big Conservative capital that convinced Alemán to accept Bolaños as his running mate in 1996. And Ortega is right in saying that Bolaños spent four years making virtually no reference to the massive government corruption perpetrated on a daily basis by Alemán and his circle of allies, even while heading up an ethics-in-government committee. Bolaños has only tried to cut some distance between himself and the corruption since his nomination as PLC presidential candidate, and especially after he was formally registered with the Supreme Electoral Council as such. "I’m my own man and I’m not like anybody else," he repeats in his campaign appearances, together with his promise that "When I win the pact will end."
or the dream of others?
If Alemán did not consult with Bolaños when hand-picking the PLC legislative candidates, Bolaños could theoretically pick his own Cabinet members—and may even have already done so—without consulting Alemán. Bolaños cannot expect support from either a party controlled by Alemán or a National Assembly in which legislator-for-life Alemán will head a bench full of Liberals seeking immunity for impunity. Thus, the only place he could exercise some strength and independence would be in an executive branch surrounded by his own staff and Cabinet members, chosen from non-Alemán Liberals, among others.
Will he do it? Is that his true project? Núñez has his views on that topic as well. Bolaños, he claims, "is not Alemán’s puppet, although he has had to be crafty in waiting for his opportunity. To achieve his aims he has to use certain subtleties and move very slowly. But once in government he could put Alemán in his place and, if certain Liberal legislators recover their independence and think of the nation, he could start to uncover everything Alemán did during his presidency to the point of taking him to court. Naturally, if he began to do that, Alemán would use various mechanisms to try to neutralize him. If that were to fail, he would put the pact back into motion, reaching some agreement with the FSLN to call elections for a Constituent Assembly and throw out the Bolaños government."
Letting his "imagination"—as he calls his analysis—fly even freer, Núñez adds the following: "Bolaños would have to pull a sizable margin of votes, not only to act with such independence but even to actually ‘win’ the elections. If the vote is too close, the FSLN won’t let him walk away with victory, in which case Alemán could order his magistrates in the Supreme Electoral Council to give the victory to the FSLN. This is a real possibility, and may even be sewn up already. It can only be understood by taking into consideration Alemán’s aspirations and all the hidden aspects behind the public facade of the Alemán-Ortega pact, which is still in effect."
Win now or wait?On the FSLN side, the convinced voters base their certainty on the idea that the FSLN and Daniel Ortega have changed and that this will be appreciated if they are given a second chance to govern in a war-free environment. The resigned ones simply hope, imagine, dream that the change will come if he wins.
Some within the FSLN machinery, aware of the current economic bankruptcy and its long-term implications, do not want to win the presidency. They know the FSLN’s organizational shortcomings after 11 years in what can best be described as "virtual" opposition. They know that most of its best professionals, those with experience and commitment, have abandoned ship after 11 years of being disparaged and excluded by a party that offers pitiful examples of political behavior. They fear that, lacking the resources to offer any rapid and visible successes in dealing with the economic crisis, the FSLN will be irreversibly eroded. Their dream is to consolidate new leadership figures in the party. One example is Herty Lewites, Managua’s new mayor, whose own potentially successful presidential aspirations—not to mention his administration of the country’s most important municipality—would suffer greatly if the FSLN were to fail in the executive branch. Given this panorama, they would prefer to wait until 2006 to win. They also know that not winning the government does not mean losing power. Faced with these considerations, other Sandinistas—and even some of the same ones—counter that if the country remains in Liberal hands for the next five years, there will be no country left to govern in 2006...
Has Daniel Ortega changed?The PLC’s electoral propaganda, particularly Enrique Bolaños’ speeches, holds Daniel Ortega personally responsible for all the errors and even the unavoidable problems of the revolutionary years and seeks to fuel fears that they would be repeated with his return to government. The centerpiece of the Liberal campaign is that Daniel Ortega has not changed.
The esthetics of the FSLN campaign—lavish use of hot pink and yellow, songs, flowers, "new age" religious messages including the ubiquitous "Promised Land" slogan—as well as Daniel Ortega’s own insistence on the "ethic" of asking forgiveness, are all about disarming that argument. Ortega’s running mate, former Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín, has also been trying to disarm it for the past few months, though his success has been limited by not articulating his own discourse, even on corruption, the theme he knows best.
The FSLN or Sandinismo?Ortega’s candidacy has complicated life for the FSLN. For him personally, this candidacy is a life or death gamble. He runs the risk of striking out after his graciously acknowledged electoral defeat in 1990 and his still unaccepted one in 1996. The control Ortega exercises over the FSLN is not unlike Alemán’s control over the PLC. But while Alemán’s hold on his party is based on goodies from the state, the FSLN has been in a progressive state of disorganization, dispersion and demoralization for years, with its loyalties diluted—or perhaps only held together by murky business deals.
But there is a much broader Sandinista world beyond the FSLN. During the nineties, Ortega and his group excluded the best and the brightest, preferring to surround themselves with the worst and the most subservient. Sandinista Ruth Selma Herrera recalls that "over a thousand long-time FSLN cadres have been pushed out of their party posts for taking a critical stance against the FSLN leadership." The serious effects of this policy and of the lack of internal democracy in the FSLN are becoming more obvious as the electoral campaign unfolds. It is a lot easier for the team surrounding Ortega to organize an effective "military" network and spend millions of dollars on an electoral campaign than to be genuinely prepared to govern Nicaragua. It is particularly difficult to convince the 60% of the citizenry—including many Sandinistas—who are not convinced that any such preparation exists, because their lack of trust in the FSLN and/or in Daniel is based on good reasons and very painful experiences.
Why now?Ever since March, when the first electoral polls showed Ortega with a substantial lead over Bolaños and some even gave him the 35% needed to win in the first round, the FSLN ranks began to well with triumphalism. It was the worst thing that could happen to a party in disarray. Those who had drifted or pulled away from the FSLN began to return after reflecting that Daniel was not the loser candidate they all thought and may even be irreplaceable, the only one capable of pulling so many votes. They were also drawn by the seductive smell of power, and with it the pledge of guaranteed work. But as the campaign rolls on and more contradictions emerge, a new question is replacing the older one: Is Daniel Ortega the reason the FSLN has gotten as far as it has or is he making it impossible for the FSLN to get any further?
The question is a hot potato, but the answer is crucial. Whether the FSLN wins or loses, whether it assumes the mantle of a new government or remains in the opposition, the FSLN will have been given another chance, and Daniel Ortega will have to exercise presidential power and/or his party leadership in a new way. If he has not yet changed, he will have to do so. Can he? Will he? Does he even want to? Those who can still dream insist there will be no space to do it the same old way, either in the party or in society.
What if there are no changes? Or what if Ortega opts to cut a "mega-deal" with Alemán to call for a Constituent Assembly or for Ortega to govern rather than Bolaños? If that happens, Sandinismo–which is much broader, more solid and more valid than the FSLN currently dominated by Ortega’s circle—could fall into a crisis far worse than any it has lived through so far. It could be terminal.
A surprising and These seem to be among the justifiable concerns behind the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) decision to join the "convergence" headed by the FSLN. "We have to begin now to organize Sandinismo for the 21st century," said MRS president Dora María Téllez on August 28, upon signing the surprising agreement with the FSLN. In this accord, which appears to go well beyond either an electoral victory or defeat by Ortega, the FSLN agrees to incorporate into its 2002-2006 Government Plan a 30-plus-point proposal presented by the MRS. These points, if implemented, would be pivotal to Nicaragua’s political and institutional transformation.
controversial new alliance
Prior to the agreement, the FSLN limited itself to proposing a nebulous "fight against corruption," but the MRS proposal includes a "program of transparency," with points as concrete as this: "Promote a law to regulate the salary, fees and any other income from the public coffers received by the President and Vice President of the Republic, legislators, ministers, vice ministers, mayors, deputy mayors and municipal council members, presidents and directors of autonomous state entities and state businesses. The salaries will be determined in relation to the minimum wage." The agreement also establishes that the MRS will actively participate in the executive bodies running the Sandinista electoral campaign and that its members will hold posts in the Cabinet and participate in other governmental decision-making processes if the FSLN wins.
Two important MRS founders and former Sandinista government officials, both of whom—like Téllez herself—left the FSLN in the mid-nineties following bitter public quarrels over the direction in which the FSLN leadership was taking the party, publicly distanced themselves from the alliance. Writer and former Vice President Sergio Ramírez said in a terse statement, "Although I respect the decision, I cannot share or back it." He followed that up in an interview by arguing that "the alliance between a small Sandinista party and a strong Sandinista party is nothing other than absorption disguised as an electoral alliance." Poet Ernesto Cardenal, who was minister of culture during the eighties, went so far as to resign from the MRS over the decision. In his communiqué, Cardenal said, "I know they have done it in good faith, convinced that Daniel Ortega is a lesser evil. For me, however, neither he nor Bolaños are lesser. I believe that neither is less evil than the other; they are simply different evils. We have on the one hand authentic capitalism and on the other false revolution." Like former army general Joaquín Cuadra, who was blocked from running for President by the pact, both Ramírez and Cardenal declared that they had no one to vote for in these elections.
Six years after the split with the FSLN and the construction of a new Sandinista party with a new and different Sandinista discourse, the MRS is now entering what it calls a relationship of "equals" with the FSLN. It has the same fears of the disastrous consequences that a continuation of the current Liberal government could have for Nicaragua that it had when it cut off all relations with the FSLN due to the Ortega-Alemán pact. Yet now, and this is the paradox, these fears have led it into an agreement involving a program of transformations to the same laws and the same institutions that the FSLN despoiled via that pact. Dismantling the pact is another national dream. If all points in the programmatic agreement signed by the two parties are met, they will effectively sound the death knell for the most anti-democratic aspects of the pact in the electoral and institutional field, though no deadlines were set for either starting or concluding that work.
Alliance in search of a dream Perhaps only a woman who 23 years ago led the takeover of the National Palace dressed as a Somocista guard could make such a bold and adventurous decision, could take such a calculated risk. More than an alliance with the upper echelons of the FSLN, the MRS-FSLN agreement seems to express an alliance with the Sandinista grass roots who are not tangled up in complicity with the corruption, an alliance whose potential is based on the mystique and organization they have preserved. In practice, however, it represents the suicide of the MRS, which already met its legal death last year when the "bipartisan" CSE manipulatively declared it had failed to meet the requirements of the new electoral law.
or just a tactical front?
Are we witnessing an honorable hara-kiri, committed to make the dream of genuinely changing the FSLN "from within" a reality, taking advantage of a crossroads that points to the end of "Danielismo" whether the FSLN wins or loses? Is the MRS project to represent all the Sandinistas who have been excluded, ignored, attacked and disparaged over these years, those whom Daniel Ortega has never asked for forgiveness? If so, can it pull it off? Or will we simply see a political short circuit between an MRS that is coming to the alliance with a Sandinista recovery strategy and an FSLN receiving it as just another of its electoral tactics?
Only time can provide the answers—and very little will be required. The construction of a new Sandinista discourse during what remains of the electoral campaign will be the first test. Many others will follow close on its heels.
Is it a "sin" to abstain?The polls have shown a steady shrinkage of the percentage of both undecided voters and those who said they had decided not to vote. In the Borge & Associates poll done in mid-August, the two groups combined totaled some 20%, which is only slightly higher than a normal abstention level.
It is an article of faith that a low turnout will favor the FSLN more than the PLC, because the Sandinista vote is more disciplined, come rain or shine. It is thus presumed that those who decide to stay home would have voted for the other side, so their abstention raises the percentage of valid votes for the FSLN. This explains why it is those who sympathize with the Liberals or at least oppose the Sandinistas more viscerally—among them certain bishops, priests and preachers of the masses—who are most vociferously campaigning against abstention. It also explains why the FSLN’s electoral outreach is encouraging abstention in some targeted areas, as worked to its benefit in last year’s municipal elections.
In the clearly anti-democratic circumstances surrounding this year’s electoral process, staying home or intentionally annulling one’s ballot cannot be simply dismissed as irresponsible, a failure of civic duty or of ethics. For those who only see things one way, abstaining or annulling one’s ballot lacks the "political consequences" of the "useful vote." But for those who were neither convinced by nor resigned to the pact’s two lanes and wanted a genuine third way, for those who dreamed of other leaderships, other ways of doing politics, both are respectable political expressions.
Abstaining has a different pragmatic logic depending on where one lives. In wealthy and politically stable countries, those who do not vote because they see no choice also know that no insecurity lurks behind any electoral alternative. In Nicaragua, those who do not vote for the same reason know that the insecurity they experienced before will waylay them again no matter which candidate wins. The common denominator is that their votes would make no difference.
In this brave new world where electoral campaigns look increasingly alike in every country, Nicaragua’s media and influential sectors of the international community are politically and financially pressuring for live debates between the presidential candidates to give the voting public another tool to help it decide. While it is unlikely that a debate would help many indecisive Nicaraguan voters decide, particularly in this calculatedly polarized electoral race, an exercise of this sort could at least potentially provide a public example of reflection and tolerance."
And the day after?Sandinista leaders and media daily denounce signs that the Liberals are preparing fraud, an accusation returned in kind by Liberal leaders and media. Against this backdrop, distrust is acquiring mammoth—and potentially explosive—proportions and the issue of what could happen immediately after the votes are counted is becoming an issue of both heated debate and free-wheeling speculation, albeit less for the convinced than for the resigned.
Would the FSLN accept its defeat if it loses? Would it let the PLC win? What about vice versa? Will the pact function to alter the results or adjust the number of legislators from each party and where they "won," as many assume happened after the municipal elections last year? Will there be violence? If so, what kind? Will either PLC or FSLN sympathizers head up destabilization activities that elude both the electoral machinery’s control and the contingency plans to deal with just such a situation designed as part of a pact that never pretended to be a gentlemen’s agreement? If the scene gets ugly, how would the army act? And how would international observers react, some of whom subscribe to rightwing anti-Sandinista sympathies while others, thoroughly fed up with the Liberal government’s corruption, view the FSLN’s return to power with some optimism?
While the electoral campaign grinds on, enthusing the convinced and dragging the resigned behind it, with dreamers sandwiched in between, all eyes are on the magistrates of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the fourth branch of government, who must announce the winners on November 5. Like other state institutions, the CSE has been affected not only by a critical loss of credibility, but also by an equally critical scarcity of resources. It has declared itself bankrupt, is piling up debts and is not paying its employees, or at least not paying them on time.
It is also faithfully implementing the pact’s decisions that are transforming it from a non-political institution with experienced and dedicated full-time professionals to a body of rotating political appointees from only the two parties to the pact. The latest decision being implemented is to fire all existing workers, right down to the polling station level, who have not signed on with either the PLC or the FSLN. As a result, the union is constantly protesting over either unpaid salaries or the arbitrary and politicized layoffs.
While uncertainties mount about what could happen "the day after" the elections, the CSE is resolutely making an effort to ensure the total "purity" of the "civic fiesta" on November 4. But its effort is a little like covering an overflowing latrine with a translucent lid.
It is spending time and energy on such "crucial" issues as whether the color of the shirt Ortega has on in his ballot photo is dark blue or sky blue, because wearing a color similar to the national flag would be an electoral crime and the ballots would have to be reprinted. It is also spending scarce resources and making trips in search of sophisticated methods to avoid voter fraud: an indelible ink that leaves both visible and invisible traces on the thumb of a voter so he or she cannot vote a second time, although this also requires an infrared lamp at every polling station. That Nazarene sage, implacable censurer of the powerful corrupt, left us a metaphor to describe this hypocrisy: "They strain out the mosquitoes and swallow the camels."
Meanwhile, all Nicaraguans are hoping against hope that some of their dreams will come true. In any event, once the voting stations close at the end of the day on November 4, the abstainers and dreamers will become as important as the voters, both convinced and resigned, no matter who wins. In their own way, they will all be needed to organize, demand, support and otherwise participate in the enormous task of preventing Nicaragua from sliding even further into the abyss.