Opposition: Alphabet Soup
Nine new parties joined the existing twelve when the National Council of Political Parties and the Supreme Electoral Council ruled on requests for legal status. They run the gamut from the Revolutionary Unity Movement (MUR), to the left of the FSLN, to the first contra party to be legalized, Alfonso Robelo's Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN). The other seven parties to receive legal recognition, the Liberal Party for National Unity (PLUN), the Social Conservative Party (PCS), the Popular Conservative Alliance, the National Action Party (PAN), the National Democratic Confidence Party (PDC), the National Conservative Unity Party (PNC) and the Neo-Liberal Party (PALI), are breakaways of the Liberal, Conservative and Social Christian parties, which have been splintered by internal disputes.
On May 17, the National Council of Political Parties (CNPP) granted legal status to five of the parties who requested it, but denied it to five others. The rejected parties then appealed to the Supreme Electoral Council, which overruled the CNPP and recognized all but one party.
Despite the overabundance of political parties in Nicaragua, some of the opposition parties in the alliance known as the Group of 14 objected to the CNPP's rejection of the five requests for party recognition. To emphasize its disagreement with the decision, the Group of 14 nominated members of the parties that had failed to achieve legal status in its list of candidates for the new Supreme Electoral Council.
The National Council of Political Parties is a nongovernmental organization made up of four members of the FSLN and five members of opposition parties. The Supreme Electoral Council is a governmental board charged with monitoring elections.
Copycats and ConstitutionsThe CNPP's original decision was based on constitutional arguments and on the requirements for legal status set out in the newly reformed electoral law. These quite lax rules require only that a party have a national leadership plus representation in at least nine departments, and that it present the CNPP with a list of its leadership, its statutes and principles, and its symbols or emblems. Unlike in most Latin American countries, no minimum number of members is required.
Most of the groups denied legal status ran aground on the requirement that "the name and emblem must individualize the parties, so that they cannot be confused with existing political
This proved difficult to do in a political panorama that includes numerous breakaways from the Liberal, Conservative and Social Christian parties. The CNPP responded to appeals by already established parties not to grant legal status to particular groups for violating this "copycat" rule.
For example, the Social Christian Party (PSC) accused the Social Christian Unity Party of copying its statutes, in some cases word for word, while the Democratic Conservative Party (PCD) objected to the National Conservative Unity Party's use of a green flag similar to the PCD's.
In the case of the PALI and National Conservative Unity Party (PUNC), constitutional arguments were also brought to bear. The PUNC included in its principles that "multilateral action" could be used against a country when there was a lack of respect for the principles of "Western democracy." This was found to contradict Article 5 of the Constitution, which enshrines the principle of national sovereignty.
The CNPP objected both to PALI's choice of name, given that it was the one used by ex-dictator Somoza, and to the fact that its leadership included Somocista officials. This was judged to violate the constitutional principle that permits political parties of any ideology except those that propose a return to the Somocista past.
The arguments against PALI and PUNC for containing pro-intervention or Somocista elements appeared somewhat arbitrary in light of the fact that a contra-led party, the MDN, was legalized, along with a party led by Fernando Agüero, a conservative politician known for having signed a pact with Somoza in the late 1960s. But in both cases, these objections were secondary to the main argument that these groups did not satisfy the requirement of being sufficiently individualized and unique.
A moment of comic relief came in the CNPP deliberations when the Central American Integrationist Party (PIAC), having been rejected for being a carbon copy of the Central American Union Party, went out into the corridors of the CNPP and decided to rewrite its statutes, change its whole orientation, and become the Nicaraguan Ecology Party. It was then turned down again for being "hardly serious." A member of the PIAC noted in bemusement that his party leadership might "win a Guinness record for organizing a party in five minutes flat."
Hyperinflation—among political partiesAll of the rejected parties appealed to the Supreme Electoral Council. The Electoral Council overruled the CNPP's objections regarding Somocista leadership or unconstitutional principles, but insisted that the parties adopt name and symbol changes that would distinguish them sufficiently from their competitors. Only the hapless PIAC failed to receive legal status, for irregularities in its paperwork. One of its leaders had previously belonged to the leadership of another party, and the Electoral Council found that his name appeared with two quite different signatures on the two sets of party documents.
There are now four Liberal, four Social Christian, and six Conservative parties in Nicaragua, not to mention the other parties in the center and to the left of the FSLN. Observers generally pin the blame for this party proliferation on a personalist style of politics that stresses one-man rule over solid organizing and on an abundance of US and European dollars available to the opposition.
The multitude of names and ideologies has left some foreign reporters rather confused. In a June 12 article, for example, The Miami Herald described contra leader Alfonso Robelo's MDN as "center-left."
To prevent readers from getting lost in the labyrinth of letters, Nicaraguan papers have begun to publish fact sheets listing the parties, their leadership and ideology, such as the one we provide in this issue's Just the Facts. Taking off from this, the humor weekly Semana Cómica published its own fact sheet, featuring items such as "Independent Liberal Party—Ideology: Liberal, in the style of Louis XIV."
The parties must participate in the upcoming elections to maintain their legal status. Now that all of these new parties have managed to legalize their splintered state, they face the much greater challenge of regrouping and building alliances—the only way they will achieve a decent showing at the polls.