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  Number 280 | Noviembre 2004
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Nicaragua

2004: Municipal Elections: Connecting Dots for the Bigger Picture

Although municipal elections are always more about the different local complexities than national issues, mood swings or political figures, there are inevitably common denominators, dots that analysts can connect to trace the bigger picture.

William Grigsby

It’s still too soon to draw definitive conclusions about the causes and consequences of the electoral results. Nonetheless, some common elements have already begun to emerge that allow us a first take on the political reality they reflect.

FSLN: The big winner

The Sandinista victory is indisputable. It wasn’t a partial victory as in 2000, where the FSLN won qualitatively (the most populous and developed municipalities) but not qualitatively (it won only 52 municipalities to the PLC’s 94). This time the FSLN-Convergence alliance won the most votes and both the most and most important municipalities. The combined populace in the 87 municipalities it will govern is now 71% of the national total, up from slightly over 60% in the past four years.

The figures tell the story and it would seem rude to rub the losers’ nose in it were it not for the fact that they can’t seem to admit defeat gracefully. The losing rightwing parties, together with government officials, economic power circles and rightwing media commentators, are so busy tossing around buzzwords such as “pact,” “caudillos” and “corruption” that they stubbornly refuse to give credit where it’s due.

Abstention

Although there was appreciable abstention, above all compared to the 92% participation in the 2001 presidential elections, the real figures then and now are still a matter of dispute because the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) has yet to produce a realistic electoral role, cleansed of the tens of thousands of voters who have either died or emigrated. It’s therefore impossible to estimate the abstention rate in these elections with even a reasonable degree of reliability. It could have been anywhere from 26% to 50%, depending on how much weight one assigns to estimated figures of the deceased and departed, as the chart in the following article demonstrates.

The two interminable accusations

Ever since Bolaños took office in January 2002, his government and Nicaragua’s major media have hammered home the claim that the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and its caudillo leader Arnoldo Alemán were exclusively responsible for the country’s corruption. For its part, the Right has reviled the FSLN for over 14 years as a den of thieves, killers, warmongers, communists and terrorists, just to name the most common epithets. The only good guys in this cast of characters were Bolaños and his recently created party/alliance, APRE. So how do we explain the fact that the PLC and the FSLN obtained over 81% of the nation’s votes between them, while APRE, which focused much of its campaign on tarring its two main opponents and painting itself as the clean, honorable, pro-government option, didn’t even pull 10%? Did people stop believing either set of accusations or have they simply stopped caring? A third, less ideological explanation is that what mattered to the majority of voters was to elect someone they knew and believed to be reliable and capable of governing their municipality rather than get all tangled up in irrelevant national “politics.”

APRE went down in flames

President Enrique Bolaños put virtually all his chips on APRE, a Conservative Party-dominated mix that also includes Liberal and Social Christian groupings and a smattering of former Sandinistas. At the beginning, it was just a political calculation, based on the premise that “if we do well we’ll be able to negotiate with the PLC from a position of strength.” But toward the end of the campaign, when the PLC and the FSLN started threatening to have him removed from office, ostensibly for failing to respond to the Comptroller General’s investigation into possible campaign financing irregularities in 2001, he turned the endeavor into something far more personal: the municipal elections would be a referendum on his administration. The result was categorical, with similar possible interpretations: either people don’t believe Bolaños’ much vaunted monopoly on honesty—said another way, they believe he’s corrupt too—or they’ve simply had enough of his government and want a change.

While Bolaños should never have expected as much as he did from a hastily cobbled-together alliance in which family surnames and money are what really counts, APRE was a resounding failure by any measure. Its 9.25% failed even to match the results of the once-powerful Conservative Party (PCN) when it ran alone in the 2000 municipal elections, pulling over 13% of the votes. The PCN was the only relatively organized party structure in this alliance, followed by the National Unity Movement (MUN), retired General Joaquín Cuadra’s four-year-old party. All the others are movements of individuals not used to grassroots political mobilizing. While APRE mounted a gigantic publicity campaign, financed mainly by Conservative banker-media owners, the majority of its candidates were bereft of ideas, ignorant of the municipal problems and not exactly oozing with personal warmth.

Although at the close of this edition the final official results were not yet in on the last half-dozen municipalities in which neck-and-neck races were challenged, APRE won’t get close to the 50 mayoral offices Bolaños promised it would win. Of the 4 it won without a challenge, the most populous is El Almendro, a backwater rural municipality in the department of Río San Juan with a little over 16,000 inhabitants. The fact that the FSLN-Convergence won all nine municipalities in the department of Masaya, where Bolaños was born and still lives, is an emblem of the defeat of both APRE and the President himself. A similarly symbolic defeat is APRE’s poor showing in the municipality of Granada, capital of the department of the same name. In 2001 the PCN won it with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote and then only because the colonial city of Granada has been its traditional bastion since independence. This year it is in dispute between APRE and the FSLN, with the latter the provisional winner.

The Resistance makes a space for itself

This is the first race the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN) has run independently since 1996, when it won no municipal governments but did get a National Assembly seat as a result of a complicated proportional vote-counting system ; in 2000 it opted to run candidates on the PLC ticket instead. This time it won Río Blanco, which has almost 40,000 inhabitants, including a large number of former Resistance fighters (contras). It came close to winning 6 more municipalities and pulled enough votes in another 20 to prevent PLC victories. This showing is even more outstanding than appears at first glance since it was achieved with virtually no resources, relying on a grassroots mobilization that was frequently complicated by the fact that some of its own party cadres again worked for the PLC campaign. Although the PRN is far from competing for national power, it emerged from these elections as the country’s fourth political force (third if only parties and not alliances are counted), putting it in an enviable position to negotiate an advantageous alliance in the next elections.

Christian Way paid the price of selling out

In the 1996 national elections, the surprise third-place winner was the Camino Cristiano (CC), or Christian Way, a new party made up of pastors and members of dozens of evangelical churches whose main stated objective was to guarantee the secular nature of the state and thus undermine the Catholic Church’s dominant political influence. The CC took third place in those elections, eclipsing the Conservatives with over 72,000 votes (4% of the electorate), enough to give it three National Assembly seats. It was also enough to give Assemblies of God pastor Guillermo Osorno, who ran as its presidential candidate, the additional Assembly seat granted to losing candidates who win a given minimum.

Only eight years later, however, the party has sunk under the weight of its leader’s ambition and lack of scruples. The other CC legislators had no more than begun to warm their parliamentary bench when Osorno allied with Alemán in exchange for millions in “aid.” Under Osorno’s direction, the CC voted in tandem with the PLC until Alemán was arrested, then switched sides, selling its alliance to Bolaños. This year its votes fell to a third of its 1996 levels, the price exacted by Nicaragua’s growing evangelical population, which backed it so enthusiastically in 1996 and now feels betrayed. It has a remote chance of picking up a single Municipal Council seat in Managua and perhaps two more of nearly a thousand other Council seats around the country.

Former Sandinista Orlando Tardencilla decided to split from his partner Osorno and form a new party for these elections, but he didn’t fare much better. His Christian Alternative pulled fewer than 14,000 votes nationwide, but did secure at least two Council seats (San Juan del Sur and Mateare). With electoral alliances appearing to be the wave of the future for small parties given the new and tougher conditions for holding on to their legal status, Tardencilla is in a better position than Osorno to negotiate inclusion in a future alliance of whatever stripe.

Another, more progressive Christian Way splinter group, the Christian Unity Movement (MUC), joined the Convergence. Its leaders, the Reverends Omar Duarte and Daniel Ortega Reyes (no relation), claim that it attracted more evangelical votes than the Christian Way and Christian Alternative combined. While this is difficult to measure, the MUC now has a mayor (San Juan de Oriente) and 14 deputy mayors (including those of Somoto, Chichigalpa and Tipitapa).

Yatama: A new chance to prove itself

After the CSE refused Yatama’s request for regional party status in time for the 2000 elections on a technicality the Miskito indigenous organization saw as arbitrary and politically motivated, Yatama gave these municipal elections its best shot. (There were no municipal elections in the two autonomous Caribbean regions in 1996 because the new boundaries had not yet been set.) Riding on its experience co-governing the autonomous Regional Council with the FSLN for the past two years, Yatama won Waspam, Prinzapolka and Bilwi. While all three municipalities have majority Miskito populations, Bilwi, capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region, is strongly multiethnic. This gives Yatama a good opportunity to put to rest the fears of other ethnic populations in the region, all of whom—the Sumo-Mayangna indigenous people included—have historic reasons for accusing Miskitos in general and Yatama in particular of ethnic sectarianism.

But this poses Yatama a major challenge with respect to its own social-ethnic base and a major dilemma regarding its role in the region as a whole. If it fails to improve the conditions of its Miskito base in these municipalities, they may finally give up on it as their social organization since its record has been less than sterling after its triumphant return in 1989 as a military organization that helped put Miskitos on the world map. On the other hand, if it doesn’t administer these important municipalities equitably as well as effectively and transparently, it will have no future as a representative regional political party. That larger failure would leave no viable political alternative to the “Spanish parties from the Pacific,” as coast people are wont to call the national parties, and could even cause locals to scrap the dream of regional autonomy. To complicate its decisions even more, Yatama is in a strong position to achieve an advantageous alliance in the 2006 national elections if it plays its cards right, but juggling regional demands with national interests is as tough a hand to play as juggling ethnic demands with regional interests.

The “others”

The other parties and alliances that ran sank almost without a trace. Three other Liberal fractions participated in addition to the PLC and APRE (Liberal Salvation Movement, Independent Liberal Party and National Liberal Party), but save in a few municipalities in the north, or in Managua where former Comandante Cero Edén Pastora ran on the Independent Liberal (PLI) ticket, none attracted a percentage of the vote worth mentioning. They have nowhere to go now but into the arms of the PLC.

The FSLN no longer has any competition on the left of the political spectrum. After the eighties, the first to try was the Sandinista Renovation Movement, led by Sergio Ramírez following its split with the FSLN in 1995; it didn’t get over 2% of the national vote in the 1996 elections. There was also SOL, a popular subscription association that ran in the municipality of Managua with Herty Lewites as its mayoral candidate that same year. Pulling over 47,000 of the progressive-left votes, SOL finished fourth and almost certainly cost FSLN candidate Carlos Guadamuz victory in a very tight race against the PLC.

Individual Sandinistas have fared no better. In 2000, trader Bayardo Romero ran on the Christian Way ticket after losing the FSLN primaries in Chinandega, but failed to prevent the FSLN’s victory. Something similar happened repeatedly with Luis Felipe Pérez in León. Running for mayor on two separate tickets after leaving the FSLN, he never exceeded 3%. And Edén Pastora didn’t even hit 8,000 votes when he ran in Managua this year.

Why did the PLC lose so badly?

The biggest loser of all was the PLC, which lost 40% of its mayoral posts and over 30,000 votes and will now only govern 2 of the 17 departmental capitals. In the Pacific zone and the three northern departments known as the Segovias, the country’s most populous areas, it lost by nearly 150,000 votes. While the size of its defeat can be measured in numbers, the quality of the loss lends itself to various interpretations. The government claims it as a repudiation of the PLC’s corruption by the Liberal rank and file, an argument that surely has a quota of validity. The party’s own leaders blame the government for having turned on it and jailed its leader, which is also surely true in part, as Alemán is a consummate political proselytizer and would surely have brought out more voters. He also has notable organizing skills, which he was able to put to better use from his hospital bed than his jail cell, but he could have done even better from PLC headquarters.

But those one-note arguments only cover part of a more complex problem. At least five other factors also appear to have played a major part in the PLC’s fall:

Bad campaign organizing. Its electoral organization hit the skids after Alemán himself ordered the removal of the campaign’s most skilled cadre, Yamileth Bonilla, as a reprisal for sidling up to Alemán’s nemesis, Eduardo Montealegre. Francisco Aguirre Sacasa took over, pompously anointing himself “head of the campaign” with the aim of using the expected PLC electoral victory as a catapult to his own presidential candidacy. His “headship” was such a disaster that the PLC didn’t even fill all the positions it was entitled to on the polling station tables, and most local PLC structures had no information to guide Liberal voters to their particular polling station. With many of the polling places having changed since the last elections, many Liberals simply gave up and didn’t go vote that day.

While Aguirre can forget his presidential aspirations after that performance, another PLC presidential aspirant who will pay dear is Vice President José Rizo. To prove his worthiness, he assigned himself the task of repeating the PLC’s 2001 victory in his native city of Jinotega plus the seven other municipalities in the department of the same name. At the close of the campaign, he proclaimed that the FSLN would not win Jinotega City until the end of history. Well, perhaps the US State Department analyst who, following the collapse of Eastern European communism, proclaimed that the end of history had come wasn’t wrong after all; the FSLN won not only the municipality of Jinotega but also the traditionally Liberal municipality of La Concordia.

Faulty electoral strategy, leaving eight anti-Sandinista groupings. Alemán’s run-alone electoral strategy proved to be a big mistake. First and most importantly, the US Ambassador in Managua failed to cajole the PLC and APRE into a united anti-Sandinista front. Second, in an ostentatious gesture of excessive self-reliance, Alemán liquidated the party’s alliances with other Liberal groups, the Resistance and Christian Way. And third, after a 2003 judicial decision by both PLC and FSLN Supreme Court justices overturned one of the Ortega-Alemán pact’s many atrocities, the forced two-party system, several other anti-Sandinista parties were reinstated. But Alemán apparently didn’t see their competition as enough of a problem to bother making allies of them. While the message he wanted to send was that the PLC could go it alone, the message that came back to him is that while it can do well alone, it can’t defeat the FSLN.

Undemocratically selected candidates. Alemán handpicked the immense majority of PLC mayoral candidates, often against the better judgment of local and grassroots leaders. The defeats in the department of Masaya and in Chinandega City are particularly clear examples of how this backfired.

Serious war chest problems. With the public treasury closed by Bolaños and with big Conservative and other capital unwilling to finance a party that isolated one of their own (Bolaños is formerly a Conservative) and is publicly linked to mass corruption, the PLC couldn’t come up with enough financing. Gone were the days of lavishly handing out food, liquor, baseball caps and t-shirts at PLC campaign stops, while paid PLC publicity was so limited it barely made a blip in the media.

The most important media turned their back on the PLC. None wanted to endorse its candidates, not even Managua’s dailies, despite the fact that its candidate in the capital was Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a member of the media-magnate family. His own mother, former President Violeta Chamorro, was careful to make it clear that she was endorsing her son, not the PLC.

Despite all these adverse factors, the PLC has proved that it can still attract a huge number of voters—more than 600,000 at a national level. It would be a serious mistake, however, to interpret this as support for Alemán. As was true for other parties, Liberal voters were far more motivated by municipal concerns than by party interests.



And why did the FSLN-Convergence
win so handsomely?

Not without reason, Sandinistas are ecstatic. The FSLN has been confirmed as the country’s single most important party. If we compare this year’s results with the municipal results of 1996—when the presidential and municipal elections were held the same day and many probably voted a straight party ticket guided mainly by national concerns—and with 2000, the FSLN’s growth has been constant and significant (see chart on the facing page).

Like the PLC’s defeat, the FSLN’s victory is due to a variety of factors, of which the following stand out:

The performance of its outgoing mayors. The administration of virtually all of the 52 municipalities governed by FSLN mayors, but especially Managua, Estelí, Matagalpa, Nagarote, Tipitapa and Somoto, was transparent and non-discriminatory, factors vital to providing an efficient and effective response to the interests of the citizenry as a whole. Over time, this local prestige had a ripple effect nationally.

An intelligent policy of alliances. Conservative, Liberal, Resistance, MRS, evangelical, Social Christian and independent local mayoral candidates from the Convergence won in 17 municipalities, and its candidates were elected as deputy mayor on tickets headed by an FSLN party member in another 67 municipalities. Exclusively FSLN tickets only won in three municipalities (Chinandega, Malpaisillo and Cárdenas).

This policy will prove successful if the 17 Convergence mayors can win the backing of the citizenry through good administration and have the long-term vision to stay with the alliance. Meanwhile, these results will help the different groupings in the Convergence acquire a relevant role. The exception is the Social Christians, whose importance appears weaker than when the alliance was born and Social Christian Agustín Jarquín became Daniel Ortega’s 2001 vice presidential running mate. The role of the MRS has been particularly important, due largely to the leadership of its president, former guerrilla commander Dora María Téllez, who led the party through the acid criticism and even resignation of MRS founder Sergio Ramírez when it decided to ally with the FSLN, as well as the rebellion of the Movement’s departmental leadership in León. This is also the first tangible proof that Sandinistas no longer in the FSLN are important to ensuring victory. The cases of Jinotepe and La Concepción are the most clinching examples of this.

The discipline of the Sandinista vote. This can be tested by comparing the FSLN’s votes this year with those of 2000 and 1996 in the chart opposite. While the PLC vote has dropped steadily since 1996, even in absolute terms despite the sizable volume of newly registered voters each year, the Sandinista vote increased by nearly 68,000 between 1996 and 2000, and by more than 100,000 between then and this year. Another sign of enthusiastic discipline is that the majority of Sandinistas had already voted by noon on election day.

The electoral organization. After the problematic vote-tallying experiences of 1996, 2000 and 2001, the FSLN’s machinery was ready this time and functioned almost perfectly. The organizers knew the importance of choosing good party monitors and official table members for the polling places, monitors to accompany the ballots to the CSE municipal and departmental headquarters and operational officials at all those CSE delegations. They also placed enough of their militants among the CSE personnel entering the votes into the computers. Except for Granada, where national cadres had to step in to defend the FSLN victory over APRE, and Bluefields, where Liberals literally stole the victory during the scrutiny before the local monitors could act, the work of the monitors and local leaders from the FSLN and its allies was very effective. This was demonstrated not only during observation of the ballot scrutiny, but even more importantly by guaranteeing transport to voters who had problems getting to their polling place.

The Supreme Electoral Council’s neutrality. FSLN magistrates helped elect CSE president Roberto Rivas in 1999 in an effort to sweeten up his mentor, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. Those were the years of an insoluble matrimony between the Catholic hierarchy and President Arnoldo Alemán, and Rivas faithfully responded to PLC dictates and interests. But with three Liberal and three Sandinista magistrates among the seven in the CSE now, Rivas is maintaining the balance; although he’s Liberal at heart, he’s been faithful to the rapprochement between the Cardinal and Daniel Ortega, sealed last July 19.

The Catholic hierarchy’s reduced hostility, if not neutrality. This, too, is a result of the rapprochement between Ortega and the Cardinal. There has been noticeable neutrality from Bishop Bernardo Hombach (Granada) and the dioceses of Jinotega and the Caribbean. Even Monsignor Bosco Vivas, bishop of León, moved closer to the FSLN because of the famed Catholic devotion of its candidate, Tránsito Téllez. In Matagalpa, however, Bishop Leopoldo Brenes couldn’t resist supporting the PLC’s candidate for mayor in the departmental capital—his own brother.

Lesser reasons that contributed to such favorable results for the FSLN include the fact that more voters seem to have opted this time in favor of candidates and proposals they liked, rather than against parties and leaders they feared or disliked. With the polarization diminishing noticeably in the party’s campaigns as well, it was easier for the candidates to put municipal interests before political and party ones, and under those conditions, the quality of the Sandinista candidates stood out. At the same time, however, general disenchantment with the central government’s poor administration, the corruption in which the PLC leaders and allegedly even the government are immersed, the splits within Liberalism and the persistence of a strident and hardly pro-active Liberal discourse discouraged many traditional Liberal voters.

The fact that most of the population is frustrated after 14 years of neoliberal economic policy would appear to be encouraging contemplation of a political alternative that could respond to their problems of extreme poverty, unemployment and lack of accessible health care and educational opportunities. Having exhausted other options, they could be starting to seek that alternative again in the FSLN.

And finally, the Sandinistas have hegemony in the radio stations. It’s well demonstrated that radio is Nicaragua’s least valued but most effective medium for transmitting messages of any kind. In Managua and almost all other departments, pro-Sandinista radios tend to be the most credible and most listened to, and all of them, whether loyal to Daniel Ortega or not, profusely backed the FSLN-Convergence candidates in their respective municipalities.

The media and the US Embassy

Political analyst Julio López Campos adds two other factors, the first of which was the treatment by the big media organizations. “Although the rightwing media made no concessions to the Sandinistas, the tough competition for television audiences and the reader market has led to pressure for more balanced reporting. The rightwing media couldn’t hide most people’s approval of the Sandinista-run municipal administrations, the most notable case being recognition of Mayor Herty Lewites’ positive administration in the capital. Poll results showing favorable trends for the FSLN were not hidden or manipulated as on other occasions. Beyond the traditional censuring of the pact and of caudillismo, it must be recognized that, save rare exceptions, there was none of the past’s anti-Sandinista rage.”

The other factor he refers to is that of traditional US electoral meddling. “The political project the US Embassy worked on from an early date was basically a recomposition and regrouping of what it calls the “democratic forces” under a new political leadership distanced from the manifestly corrupt behavior of Arnoldismo; in other words, Liberalism without Arnoldo Alemán and his coterie. It was the Embassy and the State Department that pushed for the first concrete measures against the Liberal leaders’ corruption. They went after Alemán because the Embassy calculated early on that the notoriously corrupt acts of his government and the PLC leaders could lead to a Sandinista victory. But things have gone very badly for them so far: an overwhelming Sandinista victory in the municipal elections, fragmentation and dispersion of the so-called democratic forces and an uncertain future for its strategic objectives.”

What comes next?

The main political consequences of the electoral results could include:

· the weakening of the government in general, and Bolaños in particular, as he has ended up with virtually no domestic political backing to finish out his term;

· the possible disappearance of APRE. The first rebellious voices have come from the Conservative Party’s old guard. The pro-Bolaños Liberals involved in this project are also uncomfortable and would be willing to negotiate with the PLC to rejoin the party they abandoned;

· the tagging onto larger groupings of small parties obliterated in these elections or their merger with other small ones with similar profiles.

· the political and institutional strengthening of the FSLN, since 5% of the national budget will be transferred to the municipal governments in 2005 and 5.5% in 2006.

· the strengthening of the PLC as the main anti-Sandinista instrument. Despite its relative losses, the elections reaffirmed that it is indispensable to agreements aimed at thwarting the FSLN.

· the pushing through of constitutional reforms that the Liberal and Sandinista benches in the National Assembly have been negotiating for some months, aimed at transferring numerous executive powers to the legislative branch. These two legislative benches already had the qualified majority needed to pass constitutional-level legislation and were only waiting for their respective parties to be re-legitimated as the electorate’s main representatives.

· an all-out effort by the US government to regroup the Liberals and other anti-Sandinista forces to ensure an FSLN defeat in the general elections of 2006. Big business that has directly benefited from all the corruption—the Pellas consortium in particular—will no doubt play an active part in this effort.

· the reassessment of Daniel Ortega’s presidential candidacy by the FSLN’s national leadership and Ortega himself in light of the Convergence’s magnificent contribution, above all in municipalities that the FSLN was never able to win alone. These elections have demonstrated that while Ortega has been unable to attract new adherents beyond the traditional Sandinista vote, the Convergence can and did, even running under the FSLN insignia.

· acceptance by the FSLN leadership, and again especially Daniel Ortega, of the challenge of extending its positive experience with the MRS to the many other Sandinista groups and individuals excluded from the party because they disagree with its official political line. Ortega still has enough time to reunify the Sandinista family within the party or as part of an allied political movement if he can shake off his arrogance and overbearing use of power and genuinely assume an attitude of dialogue and tolerance. A first step would be to rescind his directive to his judges to politically persecute Henry Ruiz, the legendary Comandante Modesto, for having blown the whistle on the corruption within the César Augusto Sandino Foundation (FACS).

The future task: Win over the “silent majority”

If the new FSLN and Convergence mayors govern the 87 municipalities they won as well as the FSLN mayors did the 52 municipalities they won four years ago, they will accumulate invaluable political capital to take into the 2006 general elections. At a local level, these experiences on top of those of the nineties have been teaching the FSLN how to administer municipal affairs, govern without putting party interests first and jump-start progress with limited resources. As a result, the FSLN is beginning to win over that segment of the electorate that some call the “silent majority,” those who feel alienated by politics and the seemingly incomprehensible concerns of the parties. Some put this sector at around half a million Nicaraguans.

These are the people who really decide elections. Two examples. One is Nagarote, a town where the Somoza dictatorship reigned unopposed between the sixties and seventies and where the Sandinista revolution never made much of a dent in people’s mentality. In 2000, the FSLN surprisingly won the mayor’s office with barely 35.4% of the vote. Four years later, thanks to Mayor Juan Hernández’s outstanding administration, the FSLN won with 59%.

The other example is the municipality of Matagalpa. The populace was so resentful of the tragic human and economic effects of the war that the FSLN couldn’t win any elections until 2000, when the voters finally rejected the corruption and inefficiency of a succession of Liberal mayors and elected Sandinista Zadrach Zeledón. They did not regret their choice; they now call him the best mayor in their history. This year the Liberals ran the brother of the department’s Catholic bishop, but the Sandinista candidate still drew 54.16% of the vote, ten points and six thousand votes more than four years ago. If the FSLN and the Convergence can extend such achievements, they could begin to win over that silent majority.


William Grigsby Vado is a Nicaraguan journalist.

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