POLITICAL PARTIES IN NICARAGUA AND THE NEW LAW
After nearly four years of revolutionary process, political activity in Nicaragua continues strong and enriched. The more traditional type of political activity is part of a huge participative torrent with original forms and structures, having its principal expression in the mass organizations.
Almost four years after the triumph of the Revolution, political activity in Nicaragua is still a vibrant and viable force. To the more traditional political activity, a completely new wave of participation can be added with original forms and structures, which is expressed principally in the mass organizations. These two elements of "mixed" political life are one of the characteristics of the Nicaraguan process. Political pluralism, which has been ratified repeatedly in Nicaragua, is one of the pillars upon which Nicaragua's own system is being built; the others are a mixed economy, international non alignment and the participation of Christians in the process.
To discuss the situation of political parties in Nicaragua is not a simple task. Despite the fact that there is an "undeclared war" being waged against the country, it is a very special time politically, as efforts are being multiplied to institutionalize the victories which have been won. Within this framework, in the political field, a new Political Parties Law is almost ready, and it is thought that it will be discussed and even approved during May of this year. The Law, then, will be a tool or an instrument to put Nicaraguan political party activity on a solid legal foundation.
A. EXISTING POLITICAL PARTIES IN NICARAGUAThere are two large political blocs to which the majority of the Nicaraguan parties belong. Seven of the ten existing parties are divided into these two coalitions based on their ideological and/or political differences.
1. THE PATRIOTIC REVOLUTIONARY FRONT (FPR) openly supports the process and is made up of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the Independent Liberal Party, the Nicaraguan Socialist Party and the Popular Social Christian Party.
2. THE RAMIRO SACASA DEMOCRATIC COORDINATING COMMITTEE (CDRS) is the opposition front, composed of the Social Christian Party, the Social Democrat Party and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party. Also within the multi sector alliance of the CDRS are two worker confederations: the Nicaraguan Workers Confederation (CTN) and the Confederation of Trade Union Unity (CUS). The Higher Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) is also part of the CDRS. Not part of the CDRS but also in the liberal opposition is the Democratic Conservative Party.
Other parties not in either of the fronts are the Nicaraguan Communist Party (PCN), and the Marxist Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP ML).
B. SOME LEGAL ELEMENTS OF POLITICAL ACTIVITY IN NICARAGUAThe two most important statutes in Nicaragua since the victory are the FUNDAMENTAL STATUTE and the STATUTE ON RIGHTS AND GUARANTEES.
In reference to political activity, Chapter V, article 28 of the Fundamental Statute declares: "As far as conditions of national reconstruction allow, general elections for a National Assembly will be convoked by the Government Junta according to the Electoral Law which will be promulgated opportunely." This statute was signed on July 20, 1979, by Violeta Chamorro, Alfonso Robelo, Moises Hassan, Sergio Ramirez Mercado and Daniel Ortega.
Article 1 of the Statute on Rights and Guarantees states: "The Nicaraguan people have the right of free and full determination to establish their political condition and thus provide for their own economic, social and cultural development." Article 3 says: "...The State has the obligation to remove, by whatever means available, obstacles which impede equality of citizens and their participation in the political, economic and social life of the country.”
Article 25 of the same Statute declares: "All citizens will enjoy the following rights without restrictions: a) to organize parties or political associations or to belong to them; b) to participate in the direction of public affairs, directly or by means of their freely elected representatives; ... d) to vote, to be elected and to have equal access to public functions." This decree was signed by the same Government Junta on August 21, 1979.
These two laws form the basis of the new juridical ordinance in Nicaragua and, from the above, it is evident that the right to political activity is an integral part of that ordinance.
C. VARIOUS STAGES IN THE ELABORATION OF THE NEW LAWThe new Political Parties Law has gone through a series of stages. For almost a year and a half now, political and grassroots organizations have given their opinions on it. We have included the principal stages in its elaboration so that the law can be understood as the result of intense discussion and reflection by broad political sectors of the country.
1. On March 6, 1981, The Democratic Conservative Party presented to the Council Of State a draft for the Political Parties Law. While this draft was not discussed at that time, much of it was used later in subsequent drafts.
2. On November 18, 1981, (see Envio #7, Dec. '81) the FSLN representatives on the Council of State presented a draft of the law on the activity of political parties. It consisted of five fundamental principles and fourteen points. This draft had certain weaknesses, its main one being that it did not define the goal of political parties. The main criticism of the opposition centered on two points: the necessity that political parties belong to the Council of State as an absolute requirement for their existence, and the decision to separate party issues from the electoral question. The importance of this draft is that it reopened discussion among the parties which had come to a close in July of that year with the abrupt closing of the National Forum (See Envio #2, July, '81).
3. On November 23, 1981, based on a decision by the Council of State, a Special Commission began to function, which was responsible for studying and perfecting the draft. This Commission met almost immediately with representatives of the Government, the Supreme Court and all the political parties to hear their contributions. Even though the discussion of the draft had been set for the last meeting of the Council of State in 1981, the Commission requested a postponement because of the magnitude of the responses received. This Commission continued working during December, January, and February and drew up a new draft, which was presented on February 22, 1982. This new Working Paper had six fundamental principles and 34 articles arranged into the following chapters:
1. Purpose of the Law
2. Concept of Political Parties
3. Principles and Goals of Political Parties
4. Rights and Responsibilities of Political Parties
5. National Council of Political Parties
6. Make-up of Political Parties
7. Authorization of Political Parties
8. Cancellation and Suspension of Political Parties
9. General Provisions
10. Temporary Provisions
11. Duration of the Law
4. On March 15, 1982, when the National Emergency was declared, discussion on the law was suspended, both in the Council of State as well as in the Special Commission. The intense activity around the new law was left in the air because of the new military political situation in which the country was living.
5. On October 21, 1982, in a document directed to the Government Junta, the FPR proposed that, even given the National Emergency, the task to perfect the Nicaraguan political system should begin again. The document had six important proposals, including that the discussion of the Political Parties Law be reopened and that the Emergency Law be modified so that all parties could participate in this collective work. The other points referred to the Electoral Law, the Foreign Investment Law and the Regulatory Law of the Communications Media. The proposal was accepted by the Government Junta.
6. On November 24, 1982, the Political Parties Law once again began to be debated. By a previous decision of the President of the Council of State, the Special Commission was restructured. The following persons made up the new commission:
President: Fr. Alvaro Arguello, S.J., ACLEN, Clergy Association
Secretary: Under Cmdr. Rafael Solis, FFAA (Armed Forces); Jose Villavicencio, ANDEN (Nicaraguan Teachers Assn.); Mariano Fiallos, CNES (National Council of Higher Educ.); Carlos Zamora, FSLN, (Sandinista National Liberation Front); Mario Oviedo, MLC (Liberal Constitutionalist Movement); Julio Garcia, PSC (Social Christian Party); Felix Espinoza, PCD (Democratic Conservative Party); Domingo Sanchez, PSN (Nicaraguan Socialist Party); Orlando Quiñonez, PLI (Independent Liberal Party); Guillermo Mejia, PPSC (Popular Social Christian Party); Manuel P. Estrada, CAUS (Trade Union Confederation of the PCN).
On November 18, the President of the Council of State, Carlos Nuñez, disclosed the principal mechanisms for the discussion of the draft:
a. That the newspapers would publish interviews, commentaries, etc., on the draft (despite the fact that the State of Emergency and control over the media were still in effect);
b. That all parties could contribute their comments on the February 22 draft;
c. That a seminar be held in which all the political parties could expose their views in public, without any limitations.
The broad and pluralist nature of the designated Commission was an element which also aided bringing the discussion of the draft out into the open.
In the first meeting, the Commission established the voting procedures: all articles would be decided by consensus. If unanimity was not reached on a point, that point would be discussed again in the next meeting. If consensus was still lacking, discussion of the point would be decided by majority vote. The Commission also established a timetable which estimated that the final discussion would be held on January 26.
On November 29, the FPR issued a communique announcing that after the necessary modifications to the law were made, they would present a single united political position as regards the draft.
7. On January 13, the members on the Special Commission who represented parties in the Coordinating Committee withdrew from the discussion. The newspaper La Prensa announced this withdrawal in a short communique which did not elaborate on or explain the reasons for this move.
In spite of this, the Special Commission continued working during the next few months, with the expectation that the new draft would be discussed in one of the first sessions of the new Legislative Period of the Council of State, to open on May 4.
8. At the end of January 1983, a symposium on political parties, organized by the Council of State, was held to allow public discussion of the positions of the different organizations. All parties were invited. The members of the FPR, the PNC and the (MAP ML) participated in the discussions, but the traditional parties of the opposition did not accept the invitation. The conclusions of the Symposium were published in the local newspapers.
D. FROM THE DRAFT OF FEBRUARY 1982 TO THE NEW POLITICAL PARTIES LAWTo write an article about the Political Parties Law before it is approved has various limitations. In order to confront these problems, we have chosen to narrow in on two aspects. First, there is the necessity to study what we used as the basis for this analysis: the last, but most important contribution, the February 22 draft. Secondly, we will present an hypothesis about those elements which we think will be modified or improved because of their importance and conflictive nature, pointing out the trend of those modifications and the facts upon which we base the hypothesis.
1. Brief Analysis of the Principal Points of the Draft
The fundamental principles of the draft contain the following elements:
* The Government as guarantor of democracy was founded on popular participation and political pluralism;
* The institutionalization of the Sandinista Revolution is expressed in new laws;
* It is necessary to consolidate National Unity (in practical ways) to guarantee peace in Nicaragua and the region;
* It is necessary to establish the legal framework of the Political Parties so that, inspired by pluralism and national unity, they will contribute to the reconstruction, the defense and the consolidation of peace. This legal framework should take into account the Fundamental Statute and that of the Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguans.
In other chapters, the draft clarifies the following terms:
* Political parties are groups of ideologically similar Nicaraguans who have decided to participate in Public Administration according to their own party platform;
* The principles of the party should be based on the concepts of: democracy, pluralism, patriotism, economic independence, anti imperialism, anti interventionism, pacifism, anti racism, international solidarity;
* The most important rights: to publicize their principles and platforms (including on TV); to hold meetings and public demonstrations; to make constructive criticisms and propose solutions within the framework of the law; to solidify alliances with other parties; to have representation on the Council of State; and to take part in elections;
* The principal responsibilities: to respect the laws of the country; to carry out the resolutions of the National Political Parties Council; to support national unity as regards the tasks of reconstruction; to respect the victories already achieved; to defend the revolution from external and internal threats; to fight for the independence and liberty of the country; and to promote and foster human rights;
* A National Political Parties Council, with functional autonomy, will be formed by and assigned to the Government Junta in order to regulate the Political Parties Law once this is approved. The Council will be composed of three delegates from the Government Junta and one from each party. The Council will have an Executive Board composed of three representatives of the Government Junta and two delegates elected from the parties;
* Other points also covered in the draft refer to the requisites and constitution of the parties, how to obtain juridical status, and the suspension and/or cancellation of the parties, etc.
2. Principal criticism of the draftA series of criticisms were made by the different Parties in the various communications media, meetings, symposiums, etc. A synthesis of the most important of these follows:
* The question of power: This was without a doubt the most sensitive point. Practically all the parties, those in the Coordinating Committee as well as those in the FPR, have declared that the goal of political parties is to assume power in order to put into practice a government program according to that party's ideology. The draft speaks only half heartedly of "participation in public administration." Jose Osejo, National Coordinator for the PCD stated in La Prensa, 11-28-82: "Parties are formed in order to gain power some day and put into practice their government platforms." Rodolfo Robelo Herrera, speaker for the PLI in the Political Parties Symposium said, "The PLI, just like the other parties, has as its goal reaching power, and this is a revolutionary advance." (La Prensa, 1 27 83)
* The role of the National Political Parties Council Executive Board. This point was questioned principally by the opposition parties. In an editorial in La Prensa on 1 24 83, columnist Alejandro Baca Muñoz, synthesized this point in the following manner: "Because the majority on the. Executive Board are representatives of the Government Junta, the parties are left at the mercy of the Junta, and the Junta lacks the necessary impartiality to supervise the application of the law."
* The opposition also objected to the fact that some of the principles and goals which the draft stated parties should have, were too narrowly circumscribed and represented a definite political position. They also found contradictions between some of the principles, such as that of pacifism and international solidarity (as the latter openly supports nations which are fighting for their liberation).
* Some of the other points which the opposition questioned were: participation in the Council of State (which, according to them, is not clear if it is a right or an obligation); the true meaning of article 6, which referred to a "prohibition of a return to Somocismo" (with their argument being that the government could characterize some of the opposition parties as Somocismo without Somoza); etc. (La Prensa, 12 1 82, editorial commentary on the Political Parties Law.)
*Freedom of the Press. Some of the parties consider that freedom of the press is limited in the country and so they considered it necessary to clarify this item. (It is very possible that the new Regulatory Law of the Communications Media will be approved this year.)
3. Some Hypotheses on the New Political Parties LawThe most conflictive point in the final debate will without a doubt be the question, of power. Since the Revolution in Nicaragua, the idea of "people's power" has been tightly tied to the victories, the successes and the social claims of the nation. It is almost impossible today to analyze the question of power without looking at it from the point of view of the real advances made in education, health, subsidies for basic products, housing and food distribution, etc.
From the concept of "government" in a "formal" democracy run by a small, elite minority, there has been a change to the concept of "power" which entails an almost daily decision making process on a variety of problems. Also included in this concept of "power" is the permanent organization and mobilization of the people, which allows them to ratify the more general trends of the revolutionary process.
This new category acquires a completely different dimension in electoral disputes, which were previously played out before a passive majority. That, as well as the effort made by the revolution's leadership to institutionalize the process with integrated and pluralistic agreements, is significant.
There is a tendency on the part of the revolutionary leadership to ratify political pluralism in praxis. Examples which typify this tendency are: reopening the discussion of the Political Parties Law and the decision that it be approved soon despite the military emergency; the diversified composition of the Special Commission which carried out the studies; the openness to receive and study all the proposals; and the holding of the public symposium in January.
On April 11, at the closing session of the IV Congress of the Latin American Unity Movement, Tomas Borge, Minister of the Interior, stated that the Political Parties Law being studied will institutionalize pluralism and that the FSLN supports the point made that the law should state that all have the right to take office (El Nuevo Diario, 4 12 83).
On May 4, when the IV Legislative Period of the Council of State was opened, the President of that body publicly confirmed that "all political parties have the right to seek political office”. If that were not the case, they would end up being just opinion sounding groups or some other type of association without constituting a true party. But it is clear that political power in Nicaragua will be determined by popular support and the interests of the majority.
These definitions and clarifications are a proof of the leadership's flexibility and are an objective opening. They demonstrated a marked advance in comparison to the first draft of November 1982, which only partially mentioned it.
On the other hand, if the most controversial point, i.e., power, could be resolved pluralistically, mindful of the arguments which all the parties presented, it is not difficult to imagine that all the other points under consideration will be modified or revised on the basis of the national consensus.
Therefore, we feel that the new Law will maintain the basic principles almost without modification, as these have received no major criticism from the other parties. But, it is possible that those principles which govern political parties will be simplified somewhat. In accordance with the overall goal of national unity, the most important principles which are almost non negotiable for the FSLN are: anti imperialism, and the democratic and popular nature of political parties. The other principles in the draft are either related to these or do not have a determinant influence on the Nicaraguan reality because they fall into the category of general political ideological definitions. It is also possible to understand why the opposition parties could feel a bit "asphyxiated" by so many definitions which do not always find resonance with them.
In order to find a practical functional agreement among the parties it may be necessary to revise the composition of the National Parties Council Executive Board so that the opposition can place the needed confidence in that governing body. It is clear that the actual composition (Government Junta 3, and political parties 2) does not satisfy the opposition parties.
Another point which must be clarified is the freedom of press issue (above all in the electoral period) in order to allay the opposition's fears and suspicions.
E. POLITICAL PARTIES LAW AND THE ELECTORAL QUESTION IN NICARAGUAVarious international sectors critical of the Nicaraguan process have used the arguments, albeit without basis, that: "The Nicaraguan government has postponed the election," or "The nation is denied the possibility to vote," etc.
Even though the whole electoral question could in itself be a specific article, we do not want to leave this article without mentioning some of the points in the electoral discussion which have an intrinsic bearing on the Political Parties Law.
The regulation of political parties could be considered a first and an important step in the more general framework of the institutionalization of the process. The electoral process would also be a part of it. So it is impossible to think about having elections without a normative instrument for those who will participate in them. Therefore, it is important to understand the Political Parties Law and elections as different stages in a more general and unique project.
There are also other elements which have helped us arrive at these judgments. The most important of these are:
1. Elections were first mentioned in the closing act of the National Literacy Crusade on August 22, 1980. On that occasion, point seven of a message from the FSLN said: "To concretize this victory of Sandino's people, the National Reconstruction Government Junta should begin the electoral process in January, 1984. In these elections, all Nicaraguans will be able to choose the government which will continue building the new Nicaragua." It added: "Our hard working nation, our campesinos and workers, should be ready by 1985 to elect a platform of government and the best persons in the country, who, in the name of the government, will continue carrying out the tasks of our revolution."
Only one year after the victory, this announcement defined the electoral strategy. Since then other announcements have been made, but all in the same vein. These statements have either been made publicly to the people of Nicaragua or in international forums. A few examples are:
* On October 11, 1982, in a "Face the People" meeting in the Riguero Barrio in Managua, Comandante Daniel Ortega told more than 1,000 persons assembled there that the government's commitment to elections in 1985 was firm, although the situation in the country at that time might condition this commitment (Barricada, 10 12 82).
* On February 20, 1982, at the closing of the Congress in Managua, Comandante Borge stated: "We have already said that there will be elections in 1985, in accord with the priorities which the Revolution has to consolidate.”
* On February 21, 1982, when the then President of Mexico, Lopez Portillo, received the A. C. Sandino Order, Comandante Daniel Ortega said to the more than 100,000 persons present in the Plaza of the Revolution: "...Nicaragua continues its willingness to develop its Revolution and its process in the framework of a mixed economy, pluralism and non alignment and to hold democratic elections no later than 1985."
To this list of public announcements can also be added an important institutional element which clarified these intentions. At the closing session of the III Legislative Period of the Council of State on December 4, 1982, Comandante Daniel Ortega told the gathering: "Directions had been given that an electoral law be drawn up which would consolidate the bases of this new democracy." Present at that act were parliamentarians from Mexico, from Great Britain's House of Lords, and from the Socialist International. Two days later, the government sent a communication to the President of the Council of State which said: "Therefore, in agreement with article 6, paragraph f, of the General Statute of the Council of State, we authorize the Council of State to proceed with the drawing up of a draft of an Electoral Law which should be approved no later than the end of the IV Legislative Period, in December of 1983. The Council of State is free to choose the most adequate method to fulfill this responsibility."
On December 7, 1982, the President of the Council of State spoke to journalists (El Nuevo Diario, 12 8 82) and revealed some of the Commission's task to draw up and present the draft of the Electoral Law by the end of 1983. Nuñez also said, "The Commission proposes to visit at least 13 countries around the world (capitalist, socialist, Social Democrat) to search for the best model to follow in our own electoral law..."
Even in spite of the intensified military aggressions against Nicaragua, the most recent communiqués of the FSLN from April 25 to May 1 ratify the FSLN's decision to convoke elections in 1985.
On May 4, when the new Legislative Period of the Council of State was inaugurated, the electoral process for 1985 was again confirmed.