Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 41 | Noviembre 1984



Analysis of the Electoral Results

Envío team

On November 6, the day of the US elections, The Washington Post made public a “secret” and “sensitive” document prepared by the National Security Council. This document presented an account of the US government’s “success” in “blocking” Contadora, as well as information about the campaign being conducted to convince the US population and the rest of the world that the Nicaraguan elections were a “sham.” Nonetheless, a first analysis of Nicaragua’s elections and their results thoroughly contradicts US propaganda.

Fair, free and open elections

Nicaragua’s elections did not take place during the euphoric period immediately following the overthrow of Somoza. Instead, the FSLN took the risk of holding them after five wearing years of government, thereby keeping the promise it had made in 1980. Moreover, the immediate needs of national reconstruction would have made it very difficult to prepare elections in the first few years after the triumph.

Nicaragua’s Electoral Law was enacted seven months before the election date and four months before beginning of the campaign. Certain changes were introduced into this law in the following months as a result of negotiations among the political parties. All these modifications either increased the opportunities for pre-electoral activities or provided greater guarantees for the losing parties in post-electoral Nicaragua.

The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), a pluralistic organization, organized the elections and vote-counting procedures with total independence from the other branches of the state. It operated in a very forthright fashion and allowed international observers to look through its complaint files. The majority of the 48 files dealt with cases of individuals who claimed they should be entitled to vote. The rest of the complaints were related to incidents and disturbances that took place during political rallies organized by the registered opposition parties.

Nevertheless, not one electoral meeting planned by these registered opposition parties had to be canceled. An examination of La Prensa and the opposition candidates’ speeches during the three months of electoral campaigning reveals the freedom and bitterness they used in accusing the FSLN of being responsible for the war, wanting to install a totalitarian regime and being disrespectful and provoking disputes with the Catholic hierarchy. Moreover, the leftist political organizations charged the FSLN with allowing the revolution to swing to the right, compromising with the bourgeoisie and practicing sectarianism with respect to the other revolutionary parties.

A clear flaw in the government’s policy of eliminating press censorship (except with regard to military matters) appeared on October 22, when La Prensa’s coverage of the decision by the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) to withdraw from the elections was censored and that edition of the paper was not printed. However, that same evening, the PLI’s presidential candidate, Virgilio Godoy, made a televised 20-minute presentation of his party’s reasons for withdrawing. During his speech, he referred to the censoring of La Prensa, which, he said, confirmed his party’s appraisal that conditions for fair elections did not exist in Nicaragua.

Total voters, nonvoters and void votes

Hundreds of international observers and journalists were witnesses to the massive and orderly voter turnout, as well as to the lack of a military presence in the city streets on November 4. The table below describes the final results of the voting.


FSLN: Sandinista National Liberation Front
PCD: Democratic Conservative Party
PLI: Independent Liberal Party
PPSC: Popular Social Christian Party
PC de N: Communist Party of Nicaragua
PSN : Nicaraguan Socialist Party
MAP-ML: Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement

*Out of 3892 total polling centers in the country, 16 were closed because of contra attacks.
**The percentages of votes cast are indicated by the arrow. These figures are used in our analysis, since they are considered the most significant in the majority of democratic elections.
***The total valid votes for the Assembly are used to obtain an electoral quotient for each region.
Source: Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)

These results clearly contradict US claims of totalitarian or dictatorial style Nicaraguan elections. Any elections held in Somoza’s Nicaragua, Pinochet’s Chile, Franco’s Spain, Hitler’s Third Reich,* or the Soviet-bloc countries have resulted in at least a 95% voter turnout. The 24.6% of registered Nicaraguans who did not vote refutes the charge that these elections would only amount to a plebiscite. In addition, the 4.6% of registered citizens who, for whatever reason, cast a void vote dismisses the allegation that Nicaraguans live in the grips of totalitarian-induced fear and pressure. A full 75.4% of those registered to vote did so. This number is comparable to the normal average of most traditional democracies and is higher than voter turnouts in every national US election since 1960. That year, 60% of registered US citizens voted in the election between Kennedy and Nixon. Throughout the following 24 years, that voting record has considerably diminished.**
*Including the Anschluss voting in Austria in 1938, mentioned by the US representative in the UN during the November 9 Security Council debate.
**President Reagan was reelected with 59% of the popular vote. The press information at our disposal does not indicate whether this 59% and Mondale’s 41% are percentages of the total valid votes or of the total votes cast (including valid and void votes.)

Despite the refusal of the Democratic Coordinating Committee (CDN) to register its candidates, Arturo Cruz’s publicly expressed intention not to vote, and La Prensa’s faithful daily coverage of the US-sponsored campaign to discredit the elections, there is little doubt that the majority of Nicaraguans (over 70% of those registered to vote) did not share those positions but rather took the elections very seriously.

The two counterrevolutionary radio stations—Radio Impacto in Costa Rica and the FDN’s 15 de Septiembre in Honduras—which are clearly heard on both short and medium waves throughout Nicaragua, did not call on the Nicaraguan people to abstain from voting; instead, they urged them to cast a void ballot in order to avoid serious reprisals from the Nicaraguan authorities. Nevertheless, the 6% of void votes (as a percentage of the total number of ballots cast) indicates that the contras’ publicity attempts failed. In addition, the fact that only 16 of the 3,892 polling centers did not operate reveals the will and determination with which the electoral process was conducted, even in the war zones.

Election results of each party: Figures and estimates

The FSLN received 63% of all the votes cast.* This result confirmed it as the major political force in the country and refuted US charges that the elections would result in a plebiscite. The Paris newspaper Le Monde affirmed that the FSLN’s popularity and influence were reflected in these results. The six opposition parties that ran in the elections received a total of 31% of the votes, 27% corresponding to the three parties to the right of the FSLN while the remaining 4% went to the three parties representing positions to its left.
*We have chosen to work with the percentage of total votes cast as opposed to valid votes because it is generally considered an expression of the level of democratic participation.

These results are credible, in part because of the honesty with which the electoral procedures were carried out on the voting day, as witnessed by observers from various countries and reported on international press cables. They are also credible in that they reflect the crowd-drawing capacities demonstrated by the FSLN and the other parties during the campaign. Many of the international observers and journalists witnessed the massive concentration of people at the closing of the FSLN’s campaign on November 1—for which the FSLN provided no special transportation or handouts to those attending.) The extensive public reports by the CSE throughout the vote-counting process provided additional credibility for the results, which remained consistent from the time of the first returns, never varying more than six percentage points.*
*The CSE made five official reports on the electoral results. The first results, based on returns from 16% of the country’s polling centers, were announced at 3 am on November 5. The subsequent reports were based on returns from 39%, 69%, 80% and 90.5% of the polling centers. This last report, which was transmitted on November 7 at 10 pm, contained the extrapolated projections for the final results, which were only announced several days later. This kind of procedure contrasts noticeably with the reporting style in Central American elections between 1972 and 1982. Typically, electoral data was hastily televised shortly after the closing of the polls only to be abruptly interrupted a few hours later. When final results were provided after several days of silence, they were often significantly different from the tendencies revealed in the earlier information.

It is significant to mention how the Voice of America (VOA) reported on the Nicaraguan elections during that radio station’s November 6 Latin American morning edition. The report began by affirming that Nicaragua’s recent elections were a sham. The announcer then declared that the 63% of the votes obtained by the Sandinistas was well below the FSLN’s own predication of 80%. Intending to score two points against the elections, the VOA had only entangled itself in a contradiction. If one accepts that the 63% received by the FSLN is disappointing with regard to the Sandinistas’ own predictions, there is no basis on which to accuse the elections of being dishonest. La Prensa has buried itself in similar contradictions. Nevertheless, it not once mentioned the word “fraud” in its pages when referring to Nicaragua’s elections.

It is possible to speculate about how many votes Arturo Cruz and the CDN would have received had they run. Throughout the campaign, the CDN defined itself as the main opposition force in the country. Many of those knowledgeable about Nicaragua’s political life consider this affirmation debatable, and Nicaragua’s political history offers no solid basis on which to substantiate the CDN’s claim. Nor is there reason to believe that Arturo Cruz and the CDN would have received considerably more votes than the opposition parties that did run. Several factors indicate this: 1) during the 40 years of dictatorship prior to the revolution, the Somoza family continually tried to divide any force opposing it; 2) the bourgeois opposition did not become politically active until 1978, when Alfonso Robelo founded the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), which has since joined the armed counterrevolution; 3) One of the CDN’s political parties, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was only created in 1979, after the ousting of Somoza; and 4) Another CDN party, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), has only a very-small social base.

Arturo Cruz and the CDN are the “major opposition force” in Nicaragua only in the sense that they are the only organized political group within the country that does not accept the Nicaraguan revolution as a structurally irreversible process. The image of the CDN as a great opposition force with a massive following among Nicaraguans—whether militants or citizens simply dissatisfied with the revolution—is nothing more than a product of the US-sponsored campaign to discredit the revolution.

There are no electoral results with which to measure the CDN’s base of support, but other factors may serve as important indicators. In July, following La Prensa’s extensive publicity campaign announcing Arturo Cruz’s arrival in Managua, only 400 people showed up to receive the CDN’s presidential candidate. None of Cruz’s pre-electoral political rallies in Matagalpa, Chinandega, León, Boaco and Masaya attracted more than 1,000 followers.

Nicaragua’s political reality demonstrates that the formation of a large coalition comprising the three CDN parties and the three center-right parties that ran in the elections (the PCD, PLI and PPSC) would have been highly unlikely. In 1975, those members of the Social Christian Party (PSC) who favored a structural change in the society decided to break away and form the PPSC. This position would certainly have prevented the PPSC from belonging to an electoral alliance with the CDN, one of whose member parties in the PSC. The excessively friendly relations maintained by COSEP and the PSD with the US government would probably have precluded the PCD and PLI from joining this hypothetical coalition.

The votes received by the PCD (13%) and the PLI (9%) can logically be interpreted as an expression of Nicaragua’s deeply-rooted Conservative and Liberal traditions, as well as an indication of opposition to the FSLN. It is harder to analyze the votes received by the PPSC (5%). That party’s results suggest an element of competition with the CDN. The PPSC rallied its support under the Christian banner. The CDN had attempted to create the same political image of Christian devotion and fidelity to the Church, a central theme in its pre-electoral publicity.

In estimating the number of votes that the CDN might have received, we must consider the 25% of registered citizens who did not vote. Within that 25%, there exists, as in any country, a percentage of people who never exercise their right to vote. This percentage is normally considered to be 10% of those registered. Also comprising the 25% are those who, after registering in July, were mobilized by the country’s defense units and were therefore unable to vote.*
*Citizens could only vote at the polling center where they had registered. In order to vote at a different polling center, members of the armed forces were required to obtain a letter of authorization from their military superior.

In addition, some citizens lacked transportation to reach their polling centers, particularly in the isolated areas. (In Region I, there was no public transportation on November 4.) Moreover, whereas four days were set aside in July for voter registration (93% the estimated eligible population did register), voting took place during the course of only one day. Registration was an obligation (given the need to prepare a population census based partly on that information), while voting was clearly a choice and a right.

Finally, a small portion of the 25% who did not vote was either outside the country on voting day or had died between July and November. (The mortality rate has increased as a direct result of the war.)

*According to final detailed reports from each region.
**1= Estelí, Nueva Segovia, Madríz; 2= León, Chinandega; 3= Managua; 4= Masaya, Carazo, Granada, Rivas; 5= Boaco, Chontales; 6= Matagalpa, Jinotega; I=North Zelaya; II= South Zelaya; III= Río San Juan.
Source: CSE data elaborated by envío.

It is important to examine the void votes (6.1% of the total votes for President and Vice-President and 6.7% of the ballots cast for the National Assembly) to distinguish between those purposely invalidated with ridicule, smudge marks, obscenities, counterrevolutionary slogans, etc. and those voided involuntarily for reasons of partial or total illiteracy. It is significant that there seems to be no correlation between the figures representing abstention and those depicting void votes. Had both percentages been expressions of political attitudes, a correlation might well have existed. The lack of correlation is seen most clearly in the regions with a high percentage of abstention. As table 2 shows, abstention was highest in the war zones and in areas traditionally known for their political apathy.

Votes for the National Assembly

The regional results, after the first distribution of seats, are shown in Table 3 below.

Following the second distribution of sears—after the first allocation of residual votes—the results were the following:

*The new electoral quotient is obtained by dividing the total residual votes by the number of seats not yet distributed.
**The number of seats to be allotted to each party in this second stage is calculated by dividing the total residual votes by the new electoral quotient.

Source: CSE data elaborated by envío.

In the third and last stage of distribution, the four parties with the highest number of residual votes each received one seat: the MAP-ML, PPSC, PCD and FSLN. Unless the electoral results are successfully contested—so far, they haven’t been challenged—the composition of the Constituent National Assembly (ANC) will be as indicated in Table 5.

Source: Supreme Electoral Council data elaborated by envío.

*The seats are given to the parties with the highest numbers of residual votes.
** The losing presidential candidates receive a seat in the ANC, and their vice-presidential running mates become their alternates.

The list of elected FSLN representatives includes not only party members but also national or local personalities who were nominated to run because of their social leadership and patriotic and revolutionary convictions. The FSLN had announced that it would run this kind of candidate on behalf of its policy in favor of national unity.

The elections’ greatest significance
The most significant aspect of the elections was clearly the emergence of the population’s national dignity. Despite the lack of a traditionally democratic past in this country, which for 45 years had suffered the effects of a dictatorship totally subservient to the dictates of US policy, the great majority of Nicaraguans voted in an atmosphere dignity.

Many adverse factors could have discouraged Nicaraguans from taking the elections seriously: the aggression, shortages, speculation, black market, calls for abstention, propaganda saying that voting wouldn’t be secret and a high number of casualties among those recruited by the year-old military draft. However, Nicaraguans came out to vote with no nudging by the military, which, except in Costa Rica, has always made its presence felt in Central American elections.

Nicaragua’s electoral process surprised international public opinion in several ways. With tales of Nicaraguan totalitarianism spread around the world, few had even expected that elections would take place, much less that the FSLN would tolerate the kind of harsh criticism that prevailed throughout the electoral campaign. Not many had anticipated a campaign finale like the one held by the FSLN on November 1. Many journalists and observers were surprised by the honesty, orderliness and organization of the elections, as well as by Nicaragua’s capacity to adjust its vote-counting procedures to the country’s technological limitations.

The eyes of the world were watching Nicaragua during these elections. Only a small number of foreign observers were blind to what really occurred. For instance, a European newspaper distorted the manner in which the FSLN conducted its house-to-house campaign visits, describing “street mobs pounding on doors during the days prior to the elections to frighten those who did not intend to vote.” Despite stories such as this one, the bulk of world opinion bowed to the evidence, refusing to contest the validity of these elections, which, although naturally imperfect, were amazingly clean and genuine.

The US government rejects the political program that the Nicaraguan people ratified at the polls not because it is “totalitarian and Marxist-Leninist,” as it insists, but because it is original and defies US political and ideological control over Central America. Nicaragua’s model is attractive and successful. According to figures provided by the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America, overall economic growth reached 10% in 1980; 7% in 1981; was negative in 1982 due to the floods and drought; but rose again to 5% in 1983. Only the diversion of resources to respond to the US-backed military aggression will stop this growth in 1984.

The elections have demonstrated that Nicaragua’s political framework is not totalitarian. Many international observers have seen and acknowledged this reality, and the French newspaper Le Monde stated as much in a post-electoral editorial.

Nonetheless, elections aren’t Nicaraguans’ only form of political participation. Nicaragua’s newly ratified model includes a gradual move toward self-managed production centers; the proliferation of grassroots interest groups; the extension of cooperatives throughout the agricultural sector; and increasing room for ideological debate, even during wartime.

Many factors indicate that Nicaragua has been undergoing a process of democratization and humanization. People know that the sons of government ministers and FSLN leaders must fulfill their military service and engage in combat with the counterrevolutionaries, just like the sons of ordinary citizens. This contrasts sharply with the Nicaraguan and Central American tradition of privileges. Another example of the country’s evolution is the fact that no street clashes between the police and the population have taken place in the last five years.

All these realities, which, of course, contain their share of defects, constitute the best response to anti-Nicaraguan propaganda. The reality of the November 4 elections was too strong to be effaced by US attempts to portray them as a sham.

The Reagan administration changed its tack very quickly: on November 6, it stopped trying to denigrate Nicaragua’s elections and proceeded to initiate the MIG scandal. Since then, having failed to squelch the country’s elections, the administration has endeavored to trample on Nicaragua’s dignity with intimidation and force.

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From the Elections to the State of Alert

The Final Stretch of the Electoral Process

Analysis of the Electoral Results
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