Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 304 | Noviembre 2006



The FSLN in the National Assembly: Pact with the PLC or Ally with the ALN?

It was always said that the crucial result in these elections would be the new composition of the National Assembly. As it turns out, the new parliament isn’t so new after all. The allocation of legislators could allow the FSLN to continue its pact with the PLC, which has had such negative consequences for the country. Or it could negotiate an alliance with the ALN, legitimizing it with national and international capital. The FSLN has a precarious balancing act to perform over the next five years.

Nitlápan-Envío team

Although the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s electoral victory can be qualified in different ways, the fact that its candidates and propaganda convinced fewer people than ever is particularly evident in the case of the 90 directly elected National Assembly seats.

Throwing their money around

The FSLN managed to win the presidency almost exclusively with its most loyal electorate, or what the pollsters refer to as its “hard-core” vote. Its wearying discourse written by Ortega’s wife and campaign chief Rosario Murillo, all deified and “loving,” and its multicolored—and at the same time discolored—alliance failed to draw a single extra vote. The only result—and no small thing at that—has been the image of “change” reflected in its presidential candidate Daniel Ortega. He began the task of seeing what this change could be used to reap the minute he was declared President-elect.

The FSLN had abundant resources during these elections. So many in fact, that the spending was wasteful. The highways and byways all across the country were laden with enormous FSLN billboards, 95% of which bore Ortega’s face, with most of the others displaying his running mate, Jaime Morales Carazo, and a sprinkling of parliamentary candidates closest to the party leadership. Abundant vehicles were also bought for the campaign, including 300 motorcycles and 30 four-wheel-drive pickups. Caps, T-shirts, banners and glossy-paper leaflets and stickers of all shapes and sizes were handed out by the ream, along with rasberry sherbet pink flags that only gave way to the party’s traditional red and black ones at the end of the campaign. The FSLN preferred radio and television for its media publicity, prioritizing live or summarized transmissions of its presidential candidate’s meetings in all of the departmental capitals with previously selected personalities. There was also an abundance of media spots, to such an extreme that up to 12 an hour were either being viewed on television or heard on the radio in the last two weeks. Sources linked to the FSLN say that they received US$10 million in donations. And although they didn’t want to specify their origin, other sources pinpoint the money as coming mainly from Venezuela and Brazil.

In addition to the profusion of media publicity, the journalistic coverage by all of the media favored the FSLN, both in time and space and in the positive quality of the opinions, for the first time in 16 years. According to the report of the European Union’s electoral observer mission, which monitored the media for the month before the elections, the FSLN received the greatest coverage on radio, television and in the print media, as shown in the chart below. The mission noted this same imbalance in the tone of the coverage, with the FSLN receiving the greatest number of both negative (12.9%) and positive (72.6%) radio reports and both negative (17.5%) and positive (35.8%) TV reports, as well as the greatest number of negative articles (47%) in the press. The only state medium, Radio Nicaragua, assigned broadcast time to all parties, with the ALN (30.4%) and the FSLN (30.1%) achieving the greatest coverage, but the analysis of its tone shows that 38.3% of its news about the FSLN was negative, compared to only 19.5% for the ALN.

According to calculations by the national electoral observation organization Ethics & Transparency, the consolidated spending incurred by all parties between July 1 and October 30, 2006—mainly on publicity, surveys, party monitors, logistics and freebee souvenirs—comes out to almost US$18.3 million, a 40% rise over the 2001 election spending. Based on the election results, the most expensive per-capita votes were those for the Alternative for Change (AC) candidate Edén Pastora (who spent little other than on an 11th-hour broadcast over Managua from an airplane and got virtually no return on his investment), and the cheapest those of the MRS. Although the ALN spent nearly three and a half times as much as the frugal MRS and the FSLN spent closer to five times as much, the vote return per money spent put the three parties almost on a par.

FSLN: 30 departmental
and 8 national legislators

The votes obtained by the FSLN for the legislative elections are nothing if not disappointing. In 2001, it got 41.8% of the votes for national legislators and the same percentage for departmental legislators (in Nicaragua some legislators are chosen in a national vote, while some are elected on a separate ballot by department). This year it only pulled 37.2% for national legislators (in absolute terms, 19,900 votes fewer) and 37.5% for departmental ones (1,751 votes fewer).

Curiously, however, it won the same number of national legislators (8) this time around even though the electoral quotient needed to win each seat, which is worked out mathematically each election, rose from 108,376 to 120,910 votes. The FSLN was somehow assigned enough seats to match the 38 it had in the past legislature, 37 of which it won plus the seat awarded to Daniel Ortega as the second-placing presidential candidate. These figures are particularly disappointing bearing in mind that 250,807 more valid votes (11.64%) were regis-tered across the country this year over 2001.*

* Inexplicably, the authorities had only published the overall number of votes for President, national and departmental legislators and Central American Parliament representatives as of November 21, the date this article was turned in. In the case of departmental legislators the overall results were obviously departmental, but in no other case was the breakdown available by department, and for none was it available at the municipal or polling station level.

That year the FSLN won an absolute majority in three departments: Estelí, Chinandega and León. This year it didn’t win outright in any. And it only achieved even a relative increase in votes in three departments: 0.12% in Madriz, 0.41% in Matagalpa and 3.26% in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), where it ran in alliance with Yatama, a regional party mainly supported by Miskitus.

A policy of alliances that yielded no results

The FSLN’s results mean that its policy of alliances—mainly with groups of former contras, Somocistas and Miskitus—was worthless. Not even in the RAAN did it keep its percentage of the region’s population growth or capture the potential electorate offered by Yatama, which had allied with the PLC for the 2001 presidential elections but presented its own list for the election of departmental legislators in the RAAN, unlike this time. Since Yatama drew 7,226 votes (11.3%) on the legislative ballot that year and the FSLN drew 23,999 (37.4%), basic arithmetic suggests that the FSLN should have gotten almost half of the RAAN’s votes this year in alliance with Yatama. But it didn’t. It only got 40.7% on the legislative ballot and only 5,898 votes more than the separate total for both parties in 2001 despite a spectacular rise in voters (27,114 more valid votes in the RAAN than in 2001) due to the massive issuing of voter ID cards before the coast’s March 2006 autonomous elections. In other words, even in association with Yatama, assuming for the sake of argument that Yatama wasn’t the cause of the problem, the FSLN only increased its vote by 3.3% despite a 42.3% increase in total voters.

The worst result for the FSLN was in Masaya, the only department in the country where fewer votes (509 less) were cast than in 2001, with the FSLN vote dropping by 16.4%. In Carazo, where 13.50% more votes were registered, Ortega’s party saw its share drop by 13.4%. And in Managua, where the electorate grew by 12.6%, the FSLN lost 25,890 votes (10.3%). It also lost votes in Chinandega (0.3%), León (1.1%) and Boaco (2.7%).

Deficient political work and questioned leaders

The negative results reflect precisely the departments where the FSLN has worked worst as a party and where the party leaders have been most questioned. For years and in all possible forums, Sandinistas in Managua have been denouncing the corruption of FSLN departmental political secretary and outgoing parliamentarian Elías Chévez, as well as the virtual disappearance of all party structures and the suppression of internal political debate.

The only things that have worked in Managua are the quasi-military forces of Lenín Cerna and the Businesspeople’s Bloc, each acting as an individual pressure group with its own political logic and leaders. The disaster was anticipated long before the arbitrary expulsion from the FSLN of Herty Lewites and Víctor Hugo Tinoco, but the party’s general secretary, Daniel Ortega, preferred to do nothing so as not to affect anyone.

Warned by their own opinion polls of the great force that the MRS was amassing in Managua, Ortega and Murillo spent the last five weeks of the campaign in unflagging efforts to increase their vote in Managua. During the morning they would travel by helicopter to some region in inland Nicaragua and at night would tour the capital’s neighborhoods. These efforts paid off as they managed to regain at least a third of the vote that the polls were attributing to the MRS in Managua, although still falling below the FSLN’s 2001 results.

Masaya, Carazo and Granada are very similar cases. In the first two departments the FSLN’s political secretaries are the object of rejection and division among Sandinistas. The worst case is Masaya, where Jorge Martínez literally pushed his daughter Jenny into second place on the departmental slate of parliamentary candidates. In Carazo, where divisions between Sandinistas were ameliorated with great difficulty before the 1996 and 2001 elections, the grass roots rejected José Martínez not only because he was being re-elected for the third time, but also because he has systematically blocked the emergence of a new departmental leadership through unethical maneuvers.

The results in Chinandega and León, Sandinista bastions, suggest that something similar is happening there. Marcelino García and Carlos Fonseca Terán act like local caudillos and, notwithstanding great differences in their personal qualities, both have been accused of authori-tarianism.

In Boaco, the FSLN virtually only exists as a party in the departmental capital, and then only because it managed to win the mayor’s office in that city in the last municipal elections. In the rest of Boaco, Sandinista adhesion depends on the convictions of old-style Sandinistas and their families, but no real growth can be discerned. Local leaders in Boaco, Chinandega and León insist that an additional factor explaining the low electoral results is that many Sandinistas have emigrated to Costa Rica, El Salvador and the United States.

Given this overall picture of negative growth, the most surprising thing is that the FSLN managed to keep so many departmental legislators. In fact, the only department where it actually lost a seat was Managua, although it more than evened things out by winning one in Boaco, despite pulling 508 fewer votes than in 2001, and taking one off the PLC in the RAAN by a margin of just 20 votes.

In addition the party held onto the seats it previously held in Chinandega (4); León (3); Managua (7); Estelí, the RAAN, Masaya and Matagalpa (2 each); and Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, Boaco, Chontales, Carazo, Granada and Rivas (1 each). It only increased its national vote total for departmentally-elected legislators by 1,751, while the average quotient for assigning each departmental seat rose by close to 3,800 votes. With all that, it somehow came out with one more legislator, for a total of 38. Of those, 8 are allies, including 2 from Yatama.

An unacceptable ideological price
and a politically-mortgaged FSLN

The FSLN’s campaign conception of “love, reconciliation and peace” turned out to be a flop in that it showed no results in the growth of the party. Moreover, while its results in the rural sector improved slightly, and only in relative terms, this appears more attributable to an abstention rate of over 25% than to either the ideological cocktail of ex-contras, Somocistas, Social Christians, Conservatives and Liberals that accom-panied the party during its campaign or the impact of choosing as Ortega’s running mate Jaime Morales Carazo—a renowned Somocista politically responsible for the massacres the counterrevolutionaries committed during the war of the eighties.

Nor do any appreciable advantages seem to have resulted from FSLN leaders’ express renunciation on the eve of the elections of such basic postulates as a woman’s right to life through their criminalizing of therapeutic abortion, part of its extreme ideological swerve to the right to embrace the most conservative of religious ideas.

In short, the FSLN appears to have paid too high a political price to win the presidency as an electoral and social minority. The result has been the ideological castration of a party that was once in the revolutionary vanguard of Central America, but has now politically mortgaged itself with interests running from local big capital to the international finance organizations, picking up obligations to Catholic and Evangelical church leaders along the way.

It will be hard for the incoming FSLN administration to resolve any of the structural problems affecting the country, although it will surely have enough resources to socially mask the neoliberal postulates of the capitalist system.

MRS: A radical change and impressive growth

In the 2001 elections, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) was part of the National Convergence, the alliance headed by the FSLN, but was not granted the right to present any legislative candidates. The only previous electoral results directly attributable to the MRS were in 1996, when it ran writer and former Sandinista Vice President Sergio Ramírez Mercado for President, pulling only 7,724 votes (0.44%). As envío stated in its November 1996 edition, “In fact, on election day, only a third of the 30,000 affiliates [the MRS] claimed to have voted for it (taking an average of the six ballots). The others apparently decided that its leader and presidential candidate, Sergio Ramírez, was not after all ‘the best thing that can happen to us,’ as the MRS propaganda claimed.” During those elections just over 15,000 people voted for MRS departmental legislators, winning the party one, and then only thanks to the system of adding up a party’s leftover votes after all possible seats have been allocated according to the quotient system. Jorge Samper, the top candidate on the MRS slate in the department of Managua, who was assigned that seat, is the husband of the then-president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) Rosa Marina Zelaya, leading to a questioning of the allocation, which many felt should have gone to Masaya instead.

Up until last year, then, the MRS was just a shell of a party; it only had executive committees in 60 of the country’s 153 municipalities and in many cases its only activists were the local party directors and perhaps their relatives. Things changed radically this year due to the electoral force unleashed by former Managua mayor Herty Lewites and—perhaps more importantly—the alliance forged with the solid contingent of militants and cadres brought along by Lewites and Víctor Hugo Tinoco, founders of the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo. The prestige of the alliance’s main leaders—Tinoco, Henry Ruiz, Víctor Tirado, Mónica Baltodano and Luis Carrión, among others—and the organizational framework some of them had put together over the last ten years are key elements in explaining the spectacular growth of a party that just five years ago had lost its legal status thanks to the PLC-FSLN pact’s constitutional and electoral law reforms. It only recovered its legal status in 2002, after the Supreme Court ruled against some of those reforms.

One national and four departmental
legislators…sort of...for the MRS

The results this year show that in the departments of Managua (16.6% of the vote), Masaya (13.1%), Carazo (17.8%), Granada (10.6%) and León (8.1%), the MRS capitalized on much of the historical Sandinista discontent with the FSLN leadership, particularly Ortega’s pact with Alemán.

Its best showing was on the ballot for national legislators, where it obtained 205,340 votes (8.5%). But Managua is the MRS’ great showcase, where it pulled nearly twice its national average. But it still only captured one national seat, due to the way of calculating legislators, which inevitably favors the parties with the most votes. (It must be said, however, that, unlike the winner-take-all system in the United States, small parties in Nicaragua are compensated in departmental legislative elections by the system of counting each party’s total basket of unassigned “leftover” votes and allocating them seats according to a new quotient in the departments whose seats were not all won in the first count.)

The story was similar with the list of departmental candidates, with the MRS receiving a total of 198,906 votes (8.2%) and four legislative seats. In Managua, its 16.6% of the votes were enough to give it 3 seats through direct quotients. It also took a seat in Carazo, which went to former mayor of El Rosario, Juan Ramón Jiménez. The MRS became the second electoral force in Jinotepe, the capital of Carazo, just 1,000 votes behind the FSLN. In León, Chinandega, Chichigalpa, El Viejo, Masaya, San Marcos and Diriamba it beat the PLC to take third place. In sum, the MRS’s greatest weakness was in the rural sector, proving that its scope was strictly limited to the cities, particularly the main urban centers of eight departments in the Pacific region.

Three of the five MRS Alliance legislators come from the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo and two from the MRS. But one of them, the second candidate on the alliance’s Managua slate, Mario Valle, has to be discounted as he finally did what his comrades had feared for several months: jump the MRS ship to join the FSLN.

The FSLN’s “dirty tricks”
cost the MRS at least one seat

The achievements of the MRS came despite two negative factors: the death of its presidential candidate Herty Lewites on July 2, just as the election campaign was getting underway and the FSLN’s ferocious attempts to undermine its structures.

The MRS Alliance leaders made detailed accusations that FSLN activists had infiltrated its ranks only after the elections—when Valle deserted—but ever since Lewites announced his intention to run for President it had been an open secret who was working to neutralize the MRS and how they were going about it. Dozens of neighborhood and district leaders were bought off—or else attempts were made to do so—with money, vehicles, plots of land, posts in a future FSLN government and scholarships for their children, among other things. There was also no lack of threatened reprisals, including death threats.

While the FSLN’s behavior was reprehensible, this whole episode also demonstrates the limited ideological consistency of certain local MRS leaders and its political leaders’ lack of political will to take the right measures at the right time against people they knew to be working for what, regrettably, has turned out to be “the enemy.”

What future is there for the MRS?

Herty Lewites’ death affected the MRS in two ways. One is that he had just announced a tour of rural areas, where the MRS ended up drawing less than 2% of the national vote, and the other is that the alliance’s financial resources depended largely on him, both from his personal wealth and from friends inside and outside the country who were financially backing his candidacy.

The shortage of money also affected the party’s electoral structures, which are a vital link for any party looking to win an election. The MRS could only come up with enough monitors to cover 75% of the country’s 11,264 voting stations. MRS monitors were even missing from many stations in areas where the MRS was supposed to be strongest, such as Carazo, Masaya and Managua.

This lack of resources and a questionable political decision led to the training of the party’s monitors by the US Republican Party’s International Republican Institute, which has a terrible political reputation here due to the Reagan government’s aggression during the eighties.

Despite such errors, the MRS’ resounding success is to have overcome the fierce campaign launched against it by the FSLN, which included trying to present it as a fifth column at the service of the US government. Very few Sandinistas swallowed that particular example of Rosario Murillo’s “love and reconciliation” discourse. Although the MRS failed to take root among the most impoverished sectors of Sandinismo, it now has a good opportunity to reach out to them through the consistent and committed positioning of its four remaining legislators and its national leadership.

But for all this, the party’s future is still uncertain. What will the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo, founded by Lewites and Tinoco, choose to do now? It could try to become a separate political party, with everything that implies in terms of financial resources and the obstacles erected by the pact-generated Electoral Law. Alternatively, it could negotiate its fusion with the MRS. The latter seems the most reasonable alternative, and if they do opt for it the challenge will be to become a national party with articulated structures and militancy acting around a consistent political program. How leftwing might that program be? The most difficult thing for the MRS appears to be the pending challenge of forging an ideological profile in these ideologically muddied times.

Notable growth in the overall Sandinista vote

If we take the FSLN and MRS to represent Sandinismo as a whole, it actually increased as an electoral force by 200,657 votes on the legislative ballots (22.2%). The combined Sandinistas have an absolute majority in five departments: Estelí, Chinandega, León, Carazo and, for the first time, Managua. The growth in Managua is notable, with the two parties increasing their combined share from 44.2% to 51.8%. Their joint total only fell in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Boaco and Río San Juan, and in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). Nationally, they won 45.7% of the vote, up nearly 4 points over 2001, when they got 41.8%. In the country’s polarized zero-sum game, the combined rightwing (PLC-ALN) vote fell by almost exactly the same amount. This puts the Sandinista/anti-Sandinista gap at its slimmest level since the 1990 elections ended the revolutionary experiment.

Running together, the Sandinistas would have won 33 departmental legislators—one fewer than their combined total running apart, but with a different distribution—and the same 9 national parliamentarians for a total of 42 seats, compared to the 38 allotted to the FSLN and the 5 to the MRS. But for the foreseeable future, at least, any alliance between the FSLN and MRS is highly improbable. The most likely scenario is that the MRS will decide to run its own candidates in the 2008 municipal elections, with its National Assembly representatives meanwhile taking independent positions on each piece of legislation according to its merits rather than engaging in an alliance with any other legislative bench. 2011 is still too far off to anticipate an eventual electoral alliance.

What is certain is that Sandinismo will never be the same after these elections, because the MRS offers a Sandinista political alternative with growth potential, even if the FSLN structures refuse to recognize it.

The PLC wins 19 departmental
and 6 national legislators

Statistically speaking, Arnoldo Alemán’s PLC is the big loser in these elections. But in a way it’s also a winner for having held fast and not been swept away by Montealegre’s ALN. It lost 18 of the 43 legislators who remained loyal to it after the Blue and White bench split off early in the outgoing parliament, later to turn into the ALN. The PLC received 27.5% of the votes for national legislators (664,024), only 1.32% under its rivals in Eduardo Montealegre’s ALN and enough to give it 6, the second largest bloc. Its results strictly reflect the votes of die-hard Arnoldo Alemán supporters.

The PLC once again dominated the rural vote, particularly in the departments of Jinotega (46%), Matagalpa (41.8%), Chontales (40.3%), Boaco (44.9%) and Río San Juan (51.8%), as well as in the RAAS (50.3%). Its worst results were in Chinandega (11.6%), Rivas (14%), Carazo (15.8%), León (16.9%), Masaya (17.7%), Granada (17.3%) and Managua (19.1%). The party dropped down to third place in all of these departments except Carazo, where it ended up fourth. Despite everything, the PLC still won 4 legislators in Managua, 3 in Matagalpa, 2 in Jinotega and 1 each in the RAAS, the RAAN, Masaya, León, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Estelí, Chontales, Boaco and Río San Juan, adding a total of 19 departmental representative to its 6 national ones.

PLC defeats due to the weight of
Alemán and his candidate slate

In addition to factors such as repudiation of Arnoldo Alemán’s corruption and pact with the FSLN, the PLC’s defeats are best explained by its weakened party structures and the candidates running on its legislative slate.

In León, for example, Liberals discovered in May that Alemán was going to impose the candidacy of José Pallais, who had never been a party militant. A general rebellion immediately broke out in the party, but Alemán refused to back down. The PLC only won one legislator in León, and ironically it was Pallais, who was first on the slate. Something similar happened in Rivas, where Rafael Avellán was imposed as a candidate.

In Carazo, the marginalization of Tomás Guevara, former mayor of Jinotepe and the most prestigious Liberal in the whole department, appears to have influenced the results. And results in Masaya suggest how much the PLC lost by rejecting the electoral aspirations of both Eliseo Núñez Sr. and Jr. The party’s failure to win a single seat in Chinandega was influenced by the fact that Montealegre was born there. The PLC also dropped to third place in Managua, where people are sick of Liberal corruption and the FSLN-PLC pact.

No state money this time,
but still a lot of resources

Another factor that influenced the PLC’s defeat was financial. In 1996, its plundered the coffers of the Managua mayor’s office and in 2001 those of national government to finance its campaigns and cover the costs of publicity and its electoral machinery. For both elections it also received juicy US donations paid through front organizations and others from Taiwan, Spain and El Salvador, to name but a few of its many international sources. But this time around it didn’t get a cent from the public coffers, unless one counts the surplus or whatever Alemán and his clique wanted to contribute from the fortunes they had already stolen from the country. The PLC still receives secret donations, however, from local businesspeople—particularly landlords—as well as Taiwanese and Cuban-Americans, all of which allowed it to outspend its ALN rivals, as the first chart in this article shows.

On the defensive on all flanks

During these elections, the PLC had to face simultaneous attacks on many flanks. Added to its three electoral rivals—the AC was never really a serious contender—was a list of PLC opponents that had been supporters in 2001: the US government, whose ambassador in Managua launched weekly diatribes; the government of Enrique Bolaños; the vast majority of the media, which was decidedly anti-Alemán, particularly the Channel 2-La Prensa media consortium; and a large sector of businesspeople, including the whole financial sector and the all-powerful Carlos Pellas. To top it all off, none of the opinion polls showed the PLC with over 19% of the vote.

Despite all of this, the party attracted over 660,000 presidential votes, actually won in six departments and has the second largest parliamentary bench with 25 legislators, 24 of them hand-picked by Arnoldo Alemán. He generously allowed the party’s presidential candidate, José Rizo, to pick a personal friend as the other one.

ALN voters: “Most educated and least poor”

The ALN, shaped around its candidate Eduardo Montealegre, had everything going for it: the backing of the US government, the government of Enrique Bolaños, most businesspeople, national and foreign media, Central American capital—especially Salvadoran—and public opinion against Arnoldo Alemán and the FSLN. Although it did come in second, that result is frankly mediocre given that overwhelming support.

The ALN’s main weakness was its party structure, as it was only formed a year ago and didn’t have enough time to organize adequately in all the departments, particularly in rural communities. And that cost it dearly. PLC leaders such as Máximino Rodríguez, who was re-elected as a legislator for Matagalpa, had a very different take on the problem. He declared that Montealegre never won any support in the countryside because he has an “arrogant and class-based” way of relating to people. There appears to be some truth in his words, given that Montealegre’s national party monitor and first cousin, Mauricio Montealegre, told the Channel 2 television station that “without wanting to offend anyone, those who voted for the ALN are the most educated and least poor.”

Three reasons against and a final blow

There were other very important reasons for Montealegre’s collapse. The first was his selection of Fabricio Cajina as his running mate. Cajina is a young Conservative politician whose only merit is having served as mayor of his home town of San José de los Remates, a post he took over from his brother. Montealegre preferred Cajina to Cristiana Chamorro, a lucid journalist of great personality and academic preparation, who is the youngest daughter of former President Violeta Chamorro not to mention sister-in-law of MRS presidential candidate Edmundo Jarquín. The ALN’s presidential candidate didn’t want to be “overshadowed” by a Chamorro or her controversial husband, former presidential minister Antonio Lacayo.

The second factor was the negative propaganda that emerged from the incredible fraud committed by national bankers with the Negotiable Investment Certificates (CENIs), which has hiked up the domestic debt, costing the country a quarter of its budget every year. Montealegre is alleged to have played a key role in the scandal and although rumors to this effect had been circulating for some time, nobody wanted to capitalize on it politically until the PLC made the case the centerpiece of its campaign to recover the Liberal vote lined up behind Montealegre.

The third factor was the desertion of Salvador Talavera, president of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN) and third on the ALN’s national deputy slate, who with great pomp and circumstance signed an alliance with the FSLN on September 15. The PLC strategically exploited this “turn-coating” to the full, arguing that the FSLN had infiltrated ALN ranks, adding that both Cajina and Montealegre’s spokesman, Rafael Córdova Álvarez, had been militants in the Sandinista Youth. “A vote for the ALN is a vote for the FSLN” became an impromptu PLC slogan with a lot of clout in confusing voters.

The final blow against the ALN was the impressive mass demonstration of PLC support during its closing campaign rally in Managua. It not only consolidated the majority of its electorate, but also convinced a number of people who had previously declared their intention to vote for Montealegre to switch to the PLC.

ALN gets 17 departmental
and 5 national legislators

The ALN pulled 26.3% in the elections for national legislators, enough to win it 5 seats, although Salvador Talavera will presumably be voting with the FSLN. In the departmental elections, the ALN only won in Granada (37.7%) and Rivas (41.2%). It came in second behind the FSLN in Chinandega (34.2%), León (27.6%), Managua (28.3%), Masaya (33.4%) and Carazo (31.6%) and was second to the PLC in Chontales (31.3%) and the RAAS (26.4%). It won 5 seats in Managua, 2 in Chinandega, León and Granada and one in Matagalpa, the RAAS, Chontales, Carazo, Masaya and Rivas, but failed to win a single seat in the northern Segovias region (the departments of Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Estelí) or in the RAAN, Boaco and Río San Juan.

This bench of 22 legislators will be boosted to 24—23 if we recognize Talavera’s FSLN allegiance—as Eduardo Montealegre will also be given a seat as the second-placed presidential candidate and Enrique Bolaños is automatically assigned a lifelong one as a former President, wangled by his predecessor and former friend Arnoldo Alemán out of his pact with the FSLN to insure himself a seat upon leaving office. Having energetically denounced the whole idea at one point, Bolaños has just announced that he will in fact be taking up the seat “because it’s my right under the law.”

The ALN bench has the least solid party identity, with three Conservatives and two Nicaraguan Resistance Party members, all of whom could go their own way in time.

The FSLN won’t get its way in parliament

To sum up the new parliamentary starting line-up, the FSLN has 40 votes, the PLC 25, the ALN 23 and the MRS 4. While the FSLN has the biggest bench, it quite simply can’t legislate, much less govern, alone.

Its 40 votes—including those of Talavera and Valle—are 7short of what it would need to do anything alone, including approve an ordinary law, elect the next National Assembly board, or even form a parliamentary quorum. They do, however, guarantee it a strong voice in the negotiations for distribution of new Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Council appointments or the selection of top posts in the Comptroller’s Office, the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Bank Superintendence. They are also indispensable to any reforms to constitutional-ranking laws such as the Autonomy Statute for the Caribbean coast, University Autonomy, the Military Code or the Electoral Law, all of which require a 56-vote majority, 4 more than all the other benches have put together. Reforming the Constitution itself requires 62 votes.

This will either force the three main parliamentary forces to constantly negotiate among themselves for votes, which could get very dynamic depending on the legislative agenda, or two of the three parties could decide to form a long-term alliance, which could turn out to be very stable.

The four MRS legislators will have no major role to play in the daily parliamentary hustle and bustle above that of watchdog or sniper. But they could play an important role brokering their votes with the ALN or the FSLN, particularly to isolate the pro-Alemán PLC bloc. Given the anti-Ortega bent of the main MRS cadres, however, particularly after the FSLN’s dirty tricks during the campaign, it’s unlikely that any alliance with the FSLN will occur in the short run. Things could also change for the weight of the MRS’ spoiler role if any of the other benches begin to break up into their component parts, as has repeatedly happened in the past. One such possibility is that all of the legislators from the National Resistance—between 5 and 7—would break away from the parties under which they were elected and form their own bench, adopting their own parliamentary strategy.

Who will the FSLN ally with?

The PLC and ALN Liberals face the dilemma of whether or not to unite their votes. This is about as likely as an FSLN-MRS alliance, at least for the first year of the new government, as the wounds mutually inflicted over the last two years and during the electoral campaign are still raw and neither party wants to cede any power to the other. But they will almost certainly try to reach some kind of agreement for the November 2008 municipal elections.

It’s worth the FSLN’s while to forge a long-term parliamentary alliance that ensures stable governability. The ideal force for this is the ALN, more for the sectors it represents than for its number of legislators, although their two benches combined have the votes even for constitutional reforms. Above all, it’s in the FSLN’s interest to keep the United States, the international finance organizations and domestic capital happy. They’ve all eschewed the PLC as long as it fails to ditch Alemán and are demanding the dismantling of the pact. This implies that the way Daniel Ortega’s government develops its parliamentary alliances will be key to determining the relations established with all three of these forces. For them it means sharing power with the ALN, both giving it key posts in the economic Cabinet and guaranteeing it legislative veto power. If we include Bolaños, the ALN and FSLN benches combined have 63 votes, one more than the absolute minimum needed to pass laws, approve appointments and even reform the Constitution. Is this a clue to why Bolaños decided to swallow his proud stance and accept his legislative seat?

If the FSLN opts for the PLC, under the logic that it’s better the devil you know, this will almost certainly put its government’s future course at risk. With their combined vote of 65 they could legislate at will, but would be internationally isolated and at odds with key pieces of the national machinery.

The new government in a precarious balancing act

The new National Assembly’s first decision will be to choose its seven-member board in January 2007. It is highly likely that FSLN legislators will be elected as president and first and second secretary, with ALN members elected as second vice-president and third secretary, leaving the other posts to the PLC at the MRS’ expense. It is very hard to believe that any of the big three will give up a post to benefit the smallest parliamentary bench. Of the 16 parliamentary commissions to be formed, the FSLN will probably end up controlling 7, the ALN 4 and the PLC 4, leaving one to the MRS.

There shouldn’t be any major problems getting three Sandinistas named to the board, in which case the FSLN will face two acid tests during the first ten days of parliamentary work. The first is whether last year’s constitutional reforms, which caused such controversy, be derogated or not? The Framework Law that was finally passed to postpone their implementation until the new government takes office expires on January 20, and barring intervention from the National Assembly, the reforms will go into effect immediately. Among other things, they involve the creation of a Public Service Superintendence (SISEP) and the ratification of all ministers and ambassadors by a majority of the new legislature. While President Daniel Ortega has announced his intention to accept and ratify the reforms, different ALN leaders have said they don’t agree with them, arguing that they upset the balance of power among the branches of state and the Nicaraguan Constitution’s presidentialist philosophy, a position also shared by the FSLN before hammering out its new power-sharing scheme with the PLC in their pact. The change in the correlation of forces between the FSLN and the PLC and the attraction of a parliamentary alliance between the FSLN and ALN could spell doom for the reforms.

The second test will be the announced reforms to the 2007 governmental budget bill. The outgoing parliament didn’t approve the budget and it doesn’t contain the new Sandinista government’s social priorities.

The equilibrium in the National Assembly is very precarious. If the ALN and PLC were to join, these two Liberal groups could make life impossible for Daniel Ortega just as his administration is getting under way. This makes an alliance between the FSLN and the ALN a matter of urgency. As this issue went to press, meetings were being held between those two parties while Alemán, who has a particularly personal stake in not irritating Ortega until he has secured his own release with a cleansed political record, has publicly pooh-poohed the PLC leaders who have vociferously advocated a PLC-ALN rapproche-ment. We will only know what is going on behind the scenes come January.

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