Another Serpent’s Egg: Political Apathy
Uncertainty reigns in Nicaragua today, and will do so until the presidential elections. It, in turn, is triggering dangerous political apathy, which the municipal election results will only heighten.
José Luis Rocha and Thelma Martínez
On September 28, the Central Bank tried to auction off 600 million córdobas worth of investment certificates to raise funds to compensate for the fall in its international reserves. Despite their return yield of 14-17%, payable over a period of three months to two years, it could not unload even 20% of the bonds. The private sector is approaching the electoral period very cautiously. The failure to sell these certificates is an indicator of the perception, triggered by today’s atmosphere of uncertainty, that "money in the hand is worth more than bonds in the bush." This perception is unlikely to dissipate before the presidential elections, since it grows out of a political uncertainty that coexists with political apathy.
Are the municipal elections a search The upcoming elections are just for municipal government. Do municipalities have any importance? If so, why? As a way to increase a party’s share of power? A way to toss local leaders and mid-level party functionaries a few crumbs of power? What will these elections be? A best of the national of the national mood?
for legitimacy or participation?
Each group will look for ways to capitalize on the results. For the parties to the FSLN-PLC pact, any outcome can be used as capital. The municipal elections are a lukewarm search for legitimacy, and those participating in them are legitimizing the pact as well. The elections are an attempt to fabricate hegemony in a system that has lost the loyalty of the masses because of the pact, the charges of corruption, the reduction in basic social services and the general deterioration in living conditions. It is a system where the FSLN and PLC are very weak in cultural production and ideological outreach. The elections will serve to patch up the fissures of consensus.
They are also an attempt to realign the correlation of forces. They will apportion quotas of power between local caciques or chiefs. For the FSLN and the PLC, they will also divide the country into geographical areas of influence. The "unstained reds" (the PLC) and the "red-and-blacks" (FSLN) will slice up Nicaragua. The Conservative Party is at a notorious disadvantage despite its sponsorship from the strongest economic group in Nicaragua, which fundamentally revolves around the Pellas family capital and does not relate to the pact or either of its parties. How many slices will the Conservatives get? They are not really very interested in the mayoral race, except in the capital, which is an emblem of power, serves as a trampoline to the presidency and is the only self-sustainable municipal government.
The election will also be a Pharisaic resource in many municipalities where even the most elemental forms of democratic participation are nonexistent. Groupings such as trade organizations or labor unions, or even town meetings, one of the most conventional forms of municipal participation, might serve to correct the mercantilist character of our electoral model if they existed in these municipalities. Increasing the power of district representatives relative to the Municipal Councils could also enhance popular participation, but all these mechanisms are alarmingly underutilized. In a national poll done in late September by the Central American University’s Institute of Surveys and Public Opinion Polls (IDESO) with financing from the Danish and Swiss aid agencies (DANIDA and COSUDE), 85% of the 1,700 persons surveyed said they had never participated in a town meeting. This percentage was as bad or worse among people who admitted political sympathies: to the FSLN 81%, the PLC 84%, Conservative Party 91%, Christian Way 93%, and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), Resistance Party and new National Unity Movement 100%. Even if the anticipated abstention rate drops on election day, it should not be a sign for rejoicing since political apathy has a meaning far beyond that of electoral apathy
Where are the women?There is no doubt that market model elections sustained by a two-party steamroller generate few expectations. Nicaragua’s population does not believe that it can influence the country’s political direction. The scant results of the battle that has been waged around such vital themes as gender equity in political participation or the involvement of the Atlantic Coast offer evidence of this.
The 1996 elections resulted in only 10 female mayors and 23 female vice mayors. Will women win more mayoral races this year? With 14.8% of its total, the Conservative Party is running the largest number of women candidates for mayor, followed by the PLC (14.1%) and the Christian Path (12.9%). The Christian Way has the highest percentage of women as vice mayoral candidates (19.4%), followed closely by the PLC (19.%) and the Conservatives (18.9%). The FSLN has the fewest women candidates in either category: (only 8.5% for mayor and 12% for vice mayor).
The campaign’s electoral rhetoric lacks an adequate gender focus. Despite what is said during pompous campaign speeches, 21st-century Nicaragua is still very much a rural country. Rural mentality is firmly rooted in "machismo," which definitely includes prejudices against women politicians. They are seen as "dominating," although, contradictorily, it is assumed that their husbands will make the decisions for them should they win public office. In either case, why put them on the ticket? In Managua, the showcase municipality, all 8 candidates (mayor and vice mayor) are men. Only 19 of the 61 Municipal Council candidates representing the 4 participating parties are women. The short-lived "third way" option initially grouped under the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN) banner might have broken that vicious circle given the leadership roles played by MDN businesswoman Lucía Salvo and MRS president Dora María Tellez. That option, however, was scuttled by pact intrigues.
And where is the Atlantic Coast?The autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast are very much on the outskirts of the electoral process, as is true of many other aspects of national life. In both the South and North Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAS and RAAN), the main reason people register to vote is to obtain their ID-voter card, which is a legal document with multiple uses. The fact that it is the first step in obtaining the right to vote is secondary for the population.
The RAAN, with its strongly Miskito and Mayangna-Sumu population, has always had one of the lowest participation rates in general elections: it was the lowest in 1990 and second lowest in 1996. In 1996, the abstention rate was 40%, and even in the March 1998 elections for Autonomous Regional Council, the number of registered voters reported by the Supreme Electoral Council was below the 1996 total of 88,404. In 1998 only 49,212 people voted, increasing the abstention rate to 44%. The RAAN also had the highest percentage of annulled votes in 1996 (7.7%), reflecting the meager training done to prepare for electoral participation. The RAAS, in turn, had a 48% abstention rate in 1996, the highest in the country that year and higher than in any of the five elections held between 1984 and 1998. The number of registered voters increased by 10,306 in the March 1998 regional elections, but the abstention rate only decreased to 41.4%.
The Atlantic Coast’s isolation from the decision-making centers in the Pacific region and its high illiteracy rate generate major political apathy. The illiteracy rate for those over age 6 is 48% in the RAAN and 49.95% in the RAAS. In the RAAN 38.5% of children between the ages of 10 and 14 and 64.6% of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 years are not in school. In the RAAS the latter category is 74.7%. Poverty and the feeling of powerlessness multiply the apathy.
The limited access to certain services has convinced people of the coast that they have little ability to influence how, when and where these services will be expanded. Managua had 73.7 telephones per 1000 inhabitants in 1999. On the Atlantic Coast the telephone density was 5.5 per 1000 inhabitants. Managua had a 68% electrification rate compared with a meager 17% on the Atlantic Coast.
One cannot expect the same political belligerence from those who, when weighing their options, know that political participation is not the most profitable use of their energy or time. The time dedicated to politics by individuals from different social strata does not all have the same value or purchasing power in the political market. As Canadian political specialist C.B. Macpherson correctly observed in his book, La democracia liberal y su epoca, "Those who because of their education or occupation experience more difficulty than others in acquiring, dominating or weighing the information needed for an effective participation are at a clear disadvantage. An hour of their time dedicated to political participation will not have as much effect as an hour of someone else’s time. They know this and are therefore apathetic. This is how economic inequality creates political apathy. Apathy is not an independent variable."
Voter ID card: Abstention or apathy?The abstentionist tendency is present throughout the country; the apathy generated by poverty has increased. Since this is the first time that municipal elections will be held independent of a presidential election, local abstention in action can be appreciated for the first time.
The population that is hypothetically eligible to vote has been increasing due to population growth and increased coverage by the electoral system. Whether it is a true reflection of increased citizen confidence in the electoral process as a means for defining the country’s political direction takes on a relative quality when comparing the results of the 1990 elections with those of 1996. In 1996 there were 2,421,067 registered voters, a 38% increase over 1990; nonetheless, the ratio of actual voters to registered voters fell by 10%. The 1990 elections were a model of credibility, with only 13.7% abstaining, a figure that increased to 23.6% in 1996.
The central and Atlantic regions presented the highest abstention indices in 1996. The number of people who abstain by not even registering to vote is high in these areas as well. The slow voter registration process includes issuing a "substitute" one-use-only paper voter card when the plastic one with the individual’s photo cannot be issued in time, which produces a de facto insecurity in voters because it is not "the real thing" and may contribute to abstention. According to the United Nations Development Program, only 79% of the population eligible to vote had registered as of May 22, 2000, and only 70% of those had their voting card in hand; it was still in the pipeline for the remainder. Having a voting card or not varies greatly among municipalities. envío found that as late as this month, only 4,500 out of 14,700 registered voters in the municipality of Pantasma had their voter identity cards.
According to the IDESO-UCA study, 20.7% of the voting age Nicaraguans surveyed did not have their voter ID cards by the end of September. In the 16-20 age group— that is, those who are first- time voters—only 47% had their voter ID cards; the rest were still waiting or had not registered. This age group represents a significant percentage of the population eligible to vote.
Two pivotal groups: Migrants and youthTwo elements on the municipal scene may change the tone of the elections with respect to participation or abstention. One of these is the population migration in the interior of the country, whose magnitude has not yet been sufficiently pondered or analyzed by political sector. The other is demographic evolution. According to the 1995 census, more than four hundred thousand youth between the ages of 16 and 19—too young to vote in 1996—become eligible for these elections. If the age bracket is expanded to 25 to include those ineligible to vote in 1990, the figure rises to almost a million.
With the exception of those influenced by older family members, this mass of young people will have a position toward the FSLN defined neither by old phobias nor old myths, but by the impression made by the style, faces and activities of the present political leaders. They never experienced the Sandinista government’s style and do not associate the FSLN with the compulsory military service syndrome. If the FSLN does not achieve the success it predicts, it can only blame the fact that its own style and faces, if not activities, are the same as in the eighties. It has been unable to produce or open spaces for new leaders, its obsessive rhetoric is out of phase with the new times, and the lives of some of its leaders are less than exemplary.
Which will have more weight?New and old elements will have to be dealt with in seeking to alter the situation resulting from the 1996 elections, when the FSLN won 52 municipalities and the Liberal Alliance 91. Not including Managua, 2,259,530 Nicaraguans have lived four years under Liberal mayors and 1,192,144 under Sandinista ones. The Liberals have not only controlled more municipalities than the Sandinistas but also somewhat more densely populated ones (107 vs. 96 inhabitants per sq. km). In terms of municipal financing, however, the proportions are reversed. The Liberal mayors administered under 257 million córdobas last year, while the Sandinista mayors administered over 345 million, again excluding Managua. Broken down into an average by municipality, we can see that the difference is significant: 6.6 million for the Sandinistas vs. just under 3 million for the Liberals. This can be explained by the fact that the Sandinistas controlled municipalities with relatively high budgets (León, Estelí, Ocotal) and by the belligerency of some Sandinista mayors in obtaining post Mitch rehabilitation funds.
Neither the poverty rate nor the urban-rural population ratios are relevant in attempting to identify voting patterns that differentiate Liberal municipalities from Sandinistas ones. The FSLN vote is not necessarily more urban, though it may appear so because the FSLN won a larger number of municipalities in more urbanized departments such as Estelí, Chinandega and Leon, and fewer in the more rural departments of Boaco, Chontales and Jinotega.
History seems to carry greater weight than either socioeconomic or demographic factors in explaining the Sandinista, Liberal or Conservative predominance in each municipality. In the seventies, Estelí and Ocotal were severely affected by the insurrectionary war to topple Somoza and the Somocista National Guard’s "cleansing operations," which included aerial bombing of the cities’ residential areas. The FSLN capitalized on the scars and resentments that created. For its part, León was the cradle of the FSLN and the scene of permanent student agitation. Chontales and Boaco, on the other hand, were relatively uninvolved in the “contra,” Nicaraguan Resistance war of the seventies, and the FSLN found little sympathy among the conservative population of those areas.
In the eighties, Matagalpa and Jinotega were the principal sites of the contra war because of their proximity to Honduras, the training and rearguard base for the US-supported and financed Nicaraguan Resistance, just as Chontales and Boaco tended to be areas where they received greater welcome inside Nicaragua. These areas thus suffered under the overwhelming presence of the newly created Sandinista Popular Army, militarily inexperienced but ideologically primed to feel that anyone who did not warm up to them must have counterrevolutionary intentions. While the abuses this produced, particularly in the early years, came nowhere near the reported systematic ruthlessness of the Resistance forces, the army was four times larger so had greater proportional weight, fertilizing discontent and nourishing the ranks of the Resistance.
Apathy favors the FSLNVarious figures have changed with this election. The number of municipalities has increased from 147 to 152 and the number of registered voters from 2,421,067 to 2,786,530 while the number of polling places has dropped from 8,995 to 8,483. The most significant change is the drop from 27 to 4 participating parties, which will reduce the sheet-sized ballot of 1996 to a mere handkerchief. All of these variants and other less obvious ones augur changes in the electoral results in the municipalities. One hypothesis is that the political apathy will favor the FSLN, being the party with the most loyal voters, and with an electoral campaign characterized by a low-cost, quasi-military organizational capacity.
The steady increase in political options between the 1984 elections and now have not favored the FSLN. In 1990, with 10 options on the ballot (a total of 21 parties, some grouped in alliances), the opposition alternatives won 14 out of the country’s 17 departments with a total of 60% of the valid votes, giving them a 20-point lead over the incumbent FSLN. In the 1996 elections, after one term out of office, the FSLN won in only 2 departments, and was surpassed by its non-Sandinista adversaries by 23 points—the bulk of those votes won by the Liberal Alliance. With the exception of the departments of Madriz, Chinandega and Leon, the vote for the FSLN has shown a downward slide that has been particularly marked in Rivas, Chontales, Boaco and the two autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast. The anti-Sandinista vote follows this departmental sequence in descending order: Chontales, Boaco, RAAS, Jinotega, Matagalpa, RAAN, Granada, Rivas, Río San Juan, Masaya, Managua and Carazo.
This straight dotted line on a departmental level does not illustrate the peaks and valleys seen on a municipal level, or permit calculation of the impact of the memory and bitterness some voters still have toward the FSLN after now two terms out of power. On the flip side, it does not take into account the FSLN’s impact on new, young voters. To cite an example: the FSLN won Madriz by a large margin in 1984. In 1990 slid 20 points and lost the elections in every municipality of that department. In 1996 it recovered 4 municipalities and increased its vote percentage in 7 out of 9 others.
Despite losing 8 municipalities it had governed between 1990 and 1996, the FSLN won 17 more municipalities in 1996 than in 1990 as well as 4 new ones that did not exist in 1990. This was due in part to the divisions among the non-Sandinista parties and in part to its own solid vote despite the general decline in the overall Sandinista vote.
There was a significant difference between the 1990 and 1996 municipal elections thanks to one of the 1995 electoral reforms. In 1990 the population voted directly only for its Municipal Council members, who in turn chose the mayor from among themselves, while in 1996 mayors and vice mayors were directly elected as well—a process that ended up favoring the FSLN.
The party’s declining tendency is thus relative: although far from winning an absolute majority of today’s 152 municipalities, the FSLN may be able to increase the number under its administration from 52 to 60, although it publicly predicts 70. It can still count on its bastions: León, Chinandega, Estelí, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Carazo and Managua, the seven departments in which its vote percentage was higher than its 37% national average.
The FSLN has the most disciplined votersThe municipalities with the greatest opposition to the FSLN are also those that, in general, have had the highest abstention rates. Although there is room for other interpretations, one explanation for this is that the FSLN’s main strength is in the Pacific area, which has the highest percentages of registered voters who actually vote. Estelí is considered a predominantly Sandinista department (which is relative since the FSLN and the Liberal Alliance tied there in 1996, with three municipalities each) and the registered voters there who actually voted ranged between 81.1% and 87.4%. In contrast, in Matagalpa, where anti-Sandinista voting is becoming a tradition, only 66.8% of registered voters in the departmental capital participated that same year. In the municipality of Waslala, it dropped to only 50.6%.
Among other interpretations, it is valid to assume that anti-Sandinista voters tend toward abstention, while pro-Sandinista voters, though fewer in number, are more disciplined and diligent. One can also presume that some of those who abstain are disillusioned Sandinistas who do not support other political projects, but might vote if they found some electoral offering attractive. The FSLN based its predicted rise precisely on this calculation: that it will capture the undecided and the abstainers from the last election. Its powerful Electoral Command is investing a lot of effort in this strategy.
To boot, the FSLN is counting on not being the object of a punishment vote to the same degree as the incumbent PLC. Until now, political punishment as a voter motivation has worked primarily against the FSLN. Although diverse sectors continue to fear it for various reasons, the FSLN, after two terms out of power, is a less sought-after target for a punishment vote in the present elections.
Who will get the ex-Resistance votes?Another element of the FSLN strategy, one it first unveiled in 1996, consists of forming agreements and promising space to former Resistance members. A virulent anti-Sandinista sentiment still predominates in pockets of the northern municipalities where the war was fought. The animosity generated by a number of middle-level party functionaries, who viewed their assignment to the mountains as punishment rather than an important political mission, has not disappeared. The population still remembers the cartloads of produce confiscated to meet the army’s needs without warning or compensation far better than it remembers the even larger cartloads of rice and beans provided free or at significantly subsidized prices to the resettlements of war-displaced villagers. Some remember days and nights spent hiding like an armadillo in its cave to avoid reprisals for helping family members in the contra, as well as the scarcity of food while money, hidden within sacks and mattresses, lost its value to the hyperinflationary spiral.
In these zones, negotiating with leaders of the former contra bands—many of whom turned from heading a military commando of the National Resistance in the eighties to leading a branch of what after 1990 became the Resistance Party (PRN)—is vital for any party. In the north, numerous whole communities and even some districts are virtually only inhabited by former contras and their extended families.
There are a lot of old Resistance leaders, however, and they are frequently rivals, which allowed the PLC to pull many of them and their loyal former foot soldiers away from the PRN in the 1996 elections with promises of land, jobs, funding and more. With the PRN’s failure to recover the legal status it lost in 1996 because it did not pull enough votes, the leaders that are now visibly fed up with the PLC are flirting with other parties, many with the Christian Way.
All this means that the votes of tens of thousands of former contra fighters and their families will probably be dispersed among several parties, which may be to the FSLN’s advantage. If in the worst case, these votes do not go to the FSLN, most will probably not go to the PLC either. Sprinkled between the Christian Way and the Conservatives, they would contribute to the election of Municipal Councils in which the FSLN would not have a clear majority but could well win a "divide and conquer" plurality.
To attract the Resistance vote, the PLC has the advantage of shared opposition to the FSLN, but it has two disadvantages. One is the poor administration of many municipalities by corrupt and incompetent PLC mayors and the other is the governing party’s failure to fulfill the promises that made so many Resistance leaders deliver their vote to it in 1996. An unknown is how these leaders view the PLC’s pact with the FSLN.
In zones such as Boaco, Chontales and Granada, where the FSLN has less influence, the PLC will be up against the Conservative Party, which has deep roots in these departments and is prepared to fight tooth and nail to win them. In the RAAN and the RAAS, where the FSLN base is also limited, the PLC will be up against Christian Way candidates selected not for being party hacks but for their vote-getting skills. It would be a mistake to disdain the important advantage that these candidates have coming out of the gate in the links between their party and the increasingly strong Protestant evangelist denominations on the Atlantic Coast. For all of this, despite the PLC’s announcement that it will win 100 municipalities, 9 more than in 1996, it is more predictable that the PLC will see a drastic reduction in the number of municipalities under its control.
How much abstention will we see in Managua?Nicaragua is not the only Latin American country where it has become the rule that controlling the municipal government in the capital serves as a springboard to the presidency. A victory in Managua, which has at least one-fifth of the nation’s population, is decisive in the presidential elections. To give an idea of the weight that Managua pulls, it is enough to recall that the popular Viva Managua campaign, with Pedro Solórzano as its mayoral candidate, won 100,089 votes in the capital in the 1996 elections. This is nearly 25% more than the total votes (72,621) that the Christian Way won the presidential race on a national level, which put it in third place among 27 choices in. Viva Managua won 26% of the vote, coming in only two points behind winning Liberal Alliance candidate Roberto Cedeño.
Abstention has been increasing in Managua, where the population is more exposed to the media and the skepticism they have helped spread by questioning the legitimacy of the electoral authorities and the Electoral Law. Abstention was 12% in the 1990 elections and increased to 23% in 1996, moving Managua from third to twelfth place nationally, ranking by lowest abstention rate. The problems in the issuing of voter ID cards may contribute to abstention in the capital. M&R’s latest poll, at the end of September, found that 26% of those surveyed did not have their card; the IDESO-UCA poll puts it higher, 28.6%. The political apathy among Managuans can also be seen by the fact that, in the M&R poll, 8.3% said that they had taken no steps to register to vote.
Political vices that generate apathyBetween reforms, excuses, apathy and inconclusive voter registration, the political vices have flourished. Just as Nicaragua’s electoral reforms have been designed to satisfy the short-range interests of those who negotiate them, neglecting any search for solutions that would bring democracy and stability to the electoral system, the mayoral races also have short-range goals, subordinating local interests and local leaders to party ambitions.
The most damaging and notorious vice, inconsistent with the much-touted decentralization, is demonstrated in the inability of many political parties to recruit as candidates local leaders who may have limited political careers, but can pull in voters. In general, the credentials of unconditional loyalty and proven orthodoxy prevail over those of honesty and local appeal. Party centralization thus undermines decentralization. We can find a classic example in Wiwilí. Santos Zeledón had already been chosen as the mayoral candidate through a poll of the PLC base when the invisible hands of the party chiefs and the more visible hand of local intrigue reached down and replaced him with a candidate whose record was "unstained red."
The local settings have been less polarized by the municipal elections than Managua, which reflects the national scene. This is an indication of voter consciousness about the importance of local candidates ahead of the parties running them. Nonetheless, the weight of the historical relationship between municipal governments and the executive branch, reinforced by the governing party’s favoritism toward municipal governments politically aligned to it, operates against this positive tendency.
In addition, the electoral law reforms dealt the deathblow to the possibility of genuinely independent candidates by eliminating a mechanism for municipal elections called popular subscription associations. This mechanism permitted a local organization to run a slate of independent candidates by getting 5% of the registered voters in the respective municipality to sign a petition to that effect, thus promoting political decentralization and offering space to leaders not mortgaged to the power of national party chiefs. It should be said, however, that none of the 53 such associations participating in the 1996 elections had notable success: 29 of them (54.7%) failed to win even the same percentage of voters as the signatures they had gotten to appear on the ballot in the first place. Only one independent candidate won the mayoral race (in Potosí), while one came in second and another fourth in Managua and 20 of them (37.7%) came in third in their respective municipalities. While these figures may not seem like much, they are significant considering that this was the first time that this democratic form of representation competed in the Pacific.
Independent candidates do better on the CoastThis same mechanism has been more successful on the Atlantic Coast, where ethic identities are strong and hostility to the national parties traditionally high. Instituted in 1990 for the first autonomous regional government elections there, the mechanism permitted an indigenous organization named YATAMA to win the plurality of Regional Council seats in the RAAN and thus vote in one of its own as Regional Coordinator—or "governor"—in both 1990 and 1994. By 1998, YATAMA finally took a back seat to the PLC due to internal divisions and the PLC’s buying up of strong YATAMA candidates. In the RAAS, where the indigenous population is smaller, YATAMA and other popular subscription candidates did not do as well, but they got enough seats in both 1990 and 1994 to broker a few deals; in 1994 one independent missed being elected governor by one vote. In 1998, a new popular subscription association called PIM won enough seats that one of its winning Creole candidates was able to cut a deal in which he was named governor.
The pact put an end to this independent mechanism for municipal elections in the Pacific (it is still in effect for both municipal and regional elections in the Coast). Eliminating the popular subscription associations prevents those who leave party ranks from building alternatives that could pull votes away from their former party, as occurred with the Sun Movement in Managua and Sworn to Defend Chinandega in that department; both initiatives took votes away from the FSLN. In view of the ethical and political deterioration of the party leaders participating in this campaign, it is probable that the popular subscription associations would have captured many votes by those voting to punish and those who want no "more of the same."
Although the Christian Way has existed for only a few years, it is not certain that this means it has fewer vices. One it has avoided, however, is limiting its candidate criteria to rubber-stamp loyalty. Instead it has opted to recruit its slates from the mine of local leaders with popular roots and proven honesty, even if their political dossier is short— the types who in earlier elections might have been asked to head popular subscription tickets. The possibility of triumph for these charismatic local leaders has a limiting factor, however, in that the candidate lives in and is usually better known in the urban area. In the rural villages, where candidates become known mainly through radio propaganda and costly visits, the two big parties have better probabilities of success, in the opinion of Diego Castellón in Wiwilí, who refers to parties with "good faces and bad feet" vs. those with "bad faces and good feet." All parties need a good candidate, but they also need funding and organizational networks.
Minions on both sides justify the pactOne vice brings another. Since posts are distributed among the faithful and nothing is left for the pagans, local leaders excel in reproducing the rhetoric of national leaders, assuming their styles and decisions. Those who emulate Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán have their "bourgeois meter" or "communist meter" always turned on. They are anchored in ideological constructions without local flavor and with speeches that have nothing to do with the reality of the nineties. Local FSLN and PLC politicians justify the pact as part of this tribute that must be paid to their respective national party, this ideological tithe that stifles thinking.
The argument used in the FSLN campaign headquarters is the political-military version and goes like this: If I have three neighbors near my farms, I have to talk to the most powerful one to keep the other two in line. The FSLN can’t be negotiating with all these small parties that are on God’s side today and deal with the devil tomorrow. They had to be gotten rid of, because we have enough with two parties in a country as small and as poor as Nicaragua. It doesn’t matter to us anymore if there is democracy or not; let them say what they want. What matters to us is taking power, and that is done by negotiating with the one who has it.
In Liberal campaign headquarters, the pact is justified with a version in which governability criteria weigh in: Some have been a little uncomfortable with the negotiations with the Sandinistas. But today’s wars are won by civilized means and not by weapons. People are clear that the PLC came out ahead because now there are no strikes or tire burnings or mob upheavals. We are in peace.
In the end, the vice of going around agreeing with all the distorted posturing of the party, uncritically adopting uniform thinking is evolving into the vice of intransigence and utter lack of flexibility to negotiate and into the fabrication of rivalries that have no reason to exist at the local level. It starts by not admitting the errors of the past in order to remain blind to those of the present. The enemies of the past are embraced only to discover new sacrificial lambs.
The political transition should have produced a cultural evolution in political behavior. The failed attempt of the Third Way still weighs on national awareness, but politics is not exhausted in electoral mechanisms. The media will provide an excellent service if they promote other spaces, where another correlation of forces can oblige the victors of these elections—and also the vanquished—to open genuine channels of citizen participation that can begin to win out over apathy.