San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Municipal Elections Spark Political Battle

GRANADA – The threat of post-electoralviolence in Granada, coupled withthe Tuesday night assassination of a journalistin the department of Chontales,marred this week’s municipal elections,the second in the young history ofNicaragua’s democracy.La Prensa correspondent María JoséBravo, 26, was gunned down at close rangeas she exited a hotly contested recount votein Juigalpa, Chontales, on the east coast ofLake Nicaragua. She died on the way to thehospital, according to the daily La Prensa.Eugenio Hernández, a former Contracombatant and former Liberal ConstitutionalParty mayor of the neighboringmunicipality of El Ayote, was detained bypolice as the primary suspect. Police haveyet to determine a motive, and, at press time,it was not clear if the journalist’s murderwas related to the contested recount in thatmunicipality between the Liberals and theAlliance for the Republic (APRE).MEANWHILE, in the historicallypeaceful conservative bastion of Granada,riot police were deployed to the streetsWednesday to deter possible violence bysupporters of the Sandinista NationalLiberation Front, which was refusing torecognize a vote recount that shows theircandidate lost by 11 votes.According to the Supreme ElectoralCouncil’s original vote count followingthe Sunday election, Sandinista candidateAlvaro Chamorro defeated APRE challengerDionisio “Nicho” Cuadra by 26votes, 11,255 to 11,229.APRE called for a recount, and thenumbers came back more favorable fortheir candidate.The Electoral Council’s second tally,which eliminated ballots cast at one ofthe 224 voting centers in Granadabecause of indications of fraud, showedAPRE defeated the Sandinistas by 11votes, 11,139 to 11,128.CHAMORRO and the Sandinistasrefused to recognize the result of therecount in Granada, which historically hasbeen anti-Sandinista.“The people have spoken, and AlvaroChamorro is the mayor of Granada,”Chamorro declared to a group of cheeringSandinistas in downtown GranadaWednesday night.“We are going to defend our mayor,and take this to the ultimate consequences,”a Sandinista supporter yelledinto a microphone.Chamorro, who appealed to his supportersfor non-violence Tuesday night (whenthe vote count showed him the winner), didnot repeat his call for calm Wednesday, whenthe tally swung toward APRE.At press time, the atmosphere inGranada was tense, as Sandinista supportsappeared to be awaiting marching orders.THROUGHOUT the country, APREand the minority National Resistance Party(former Contras) are contesting the electionsin 15 of 152 municipalities.At press time, the Sandinistas held onto Managua and picked up 32 additionalmayoral posts to finish with 84 nationwide.The Liberals, which won 94 seats in2000, lost almost half their incumbentposts to finish with 55. APRE won seven,and National Resistance won one.Yatama, the regional indigenous partyparticipating in its first election on theAtlantic coast (TT, May 7), won threemayoral posts in the North AtlanticAutonomous Region (RAAN), includingPuerto Cabezas, the regions most populoustown.Nationwide, the Sandinistas won 44%of the votes, compared to the Liberals’37%, and beat the Liberals by more than100,000 votes, after losing to them by18,000 ballots in Nicaragua’s first-evermunicipal elections in 2000.The numbers prompted Sandinistaparty boss Daniel Ortega to declare a decisivevictory, insisting the former revolutionaryparty is now the dominant politicalforce in the country.BUT the five-month-old APRE (TT,June 4), which won 9.4% of the votenationwide, also declared a “huge victory.”“Bipartisanism is finished,” saidAlejandro Fiallos, APRE’s mayoral candidatefor Managua, who finished third inthe vote. “APRE is now positioned as thethird force in even the most extreme,remote areas of the country.“And we are ready for the next battle,”Fiallos said, referring to the 2006 presidentialelections.IN the prized Managua race, Sandinistacandidate Dionisio “Nicho” Marenco wonwith 45.6%, followed by Liberal candidatePedro Joaquín Chamorro (36%), Fiallos(11%), and Edén “Comandante Cero”Pastora, (1.8%).On election day, the vote went relativelysmoothly, with the exception of somecomplaints over voters’names notappearing on registries,and other votersnot being allowedto vote when theyshowed up at thepolls after the 6 p.m.closing time.The problemsdidn’t start untilafter the paper-ballotvoting was done.WITH recounts still occurring, thepolitical parties this week began their nextoffensive: the public relations battle overthe interpretation of vote counts and the50% abstention rate.Ortega was quick to claim that thevote results gave his former revolutionaryparty a strong mandate to govern, andcalled for reconciliation.He compared Sunday’s election toJuly 19, 1979, the day the Sandinista revolutionariesousted the dictatorship ofAnastasio Samoza.Ortega spoke this week in religiousterminology, stressing the importance of“listening to the voice of Christ.” Hecalled the election a Nicaraguan “baptismin love and peace.”POLITICAL observers, meanwhile,brought the discourse back down to earth,focusing on the abstention rate and the40% vote-share by the Sandinistas, whichhasn’t changed dramatically in any electionsince 1990.Nicaraguan analyst Alejandro Serranosaid the apparent landslide victory for theSandinistas is a bit of an optical illusion,because in reality the party has not grownin size or attracted new voters in more thana decade.Serrano told The Tico Times there arethree major reasons why the Sandinistaswere able to win so many seats in thisweek’s election: voter discipline amongtraditional Sandinista supporters, highabstention, and a divided opposition votebetween the Liberals and APRE.The 50% of the voters who didn’tshow up at the polls are citizens who arerejecting both traditional parties, and wereunmoved by APRE or other minority candidates,Serrano said.THE voter abstention rate was thehighest in the short history of Nicaraguandemocracy, up from the 42% abstention inthe 2000 municipal elections, which wereboycotted on parts of the Atlantic coast.Edén Pastora, who early Sunday afternoonpredicted he would win Managuawith 40% of the vote, said later (when theresults showed him with less than 2%) that“his voters” were the 50% that didn’t showup to the polls.APRE also noted the trend, and calledon all “democrats” to support their allianceand prevent the Sandinistas from winningthe 2006 presidential elections.The Sandinistas, meanwhile, attemptedto downplay the abstention statistic,arguing that many of the names listed onthe voter registry are Nicaraguans whohave left the country to find work, or peoplewho are dead. The real abstention percentage,Ortega argued, is much lower.WHILE there is little agreement overhow to interpret the numbers, almosteveryone agreed on one point: the biggestloser of the election is incarcerated Liberalparty boss Arnoldo Alemán.“The vote was saying, Sr. Alemán, wedon’t want anything to do with you,”Serrano said.What remains to be seen, is if formerPresident Alemán and those loyal to himwill allow theLiberal party todesarnoldizar (asprocess of the partyseparating itselffrom Alemán isreferred to inNicaragua).“When a candidateor party bosssuffers a big defeat,they normally passthe torch to someone else. This happens inevery country in the world except forhere,” Serrano said.POPULAR Liberal party figureEduardo Montealegre, former Minister ofthe Presidency, resigned his post lastmonth to focus on renovating the Liberalparty and wrestling it from the grips ofAlemán. Opinion polls show Montealegreis a favorite for the presidency, but isviewed as a power threat by Alemán (TT,Oct. 15).Analysts claim that if Montealegreand progressive-minded Liberals are capableof reforming the party in the next twoyears, or if APRE is able to attract anattractive figurehead who can articulate acomprehensive government plan, the anti-Sandinista vote will be strong enough tokeep Ortega from returning to the presidencyin 2006.However, Serrano warns, if theLiberals continue to crumble and APREcan’t come on stronger, Ortega should beable to ride the Sandinistas’ municipal successright to the presidency, with the helpof another high abstention and a disciplined40% of the vote.

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