Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 185 | Diciembre 1996





Humberto Doña, national director of the Liberal Alliance's poll watchers, strongly denied that the Alliance's leadership had given its representatives at the polling places any orientation to commit fraud. "What happened," he explained, "is that the CSE lost control of the electoral process. The CSE president does not have the experience to manage a business."


The array of electoral crimes committed during and after the elections could go unpunished. According to Marcos Antonio Baldizón, the Electoral Attorney General, one of the most common such crimes around the country was that many members and even presidents of JRVs did not show up to fulfill their mission. This crime is punishable by one to two years in jail. "We would end up filling all the jails in the country," said Baldizón, who is charged with prosecuting these crimes even though the Electoral Law did not require the CSE to provide him any financing or other support. Pancho Mayorga, presidential candidate for the Pan y Fuerza Party, requested that the CSE publish the list of all those who violated the Electoral Law not to punish them but "so that they not end up at the voting tables in the next elections."


On October 22, the day after the FSLN requested the CSE to review the vote count based on the tallies, eight other parties joined the call. Still others added their voices in the ensuing days. "It seems to me a perfectly civilized way to protest," said army chief Joaquín Cuadra, noting that such a review is contemplated as a normal step by the Electoral Law.


Meanwhile, Pedro Solórzano, consistently the lead candidate for mayor of Managua in all polls, was the first to declare that he accepted the results and would not ask for any review. "It's the will of God and I accept my defeat," he said. Another candidate to assume the same position was Conservative Party presidential candidate Noel Vidaurre. The electoral campaign of both these candidates was largely financed by the Pellas family, one of the wealthiest business families in Nicaragua. In the review that both opposed, Solórzano recovered thousands of votes, ending up in second place with 26%, and Vidaurre's party came out of it with additional legislative representatives.


Apart from the presidential ballots and those for mayor of Managua, which carried the candidate's photos below their party emblem, about the only way to distinguish one ballot from another was to try to read the tiny title in the upper left corner of each one--often in poor light within the voting booth. Another distinguishing feature was that each ballot had its own wide stripe of color on the back, but the CSE, to avoid using the colors of any of the party emblems, had been reduced to navy blue, black, gray, violet, dark brown and magenta. Most people had trouble telling them apart even when they came out into the lit room and tried to find the matching stripe on the respective ballot boxes.


At a Sandinista demonstration on November 8 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca's death, Daniel Ortega referred to the widely criticized viper fable told by Cardinal Obando y Bravo on October 17. "It was an anti Christian message of venom and hatred that did not respect the law in the days of electoral silence," said Ortega. "The Catholic hierarchy let itself be led by political passion and distanced itself from God and Christ. We pardon them and also ask God to pardon them. We will not bear malice, but will demand of them that they behave in accord with the laws of the country so that this never happens again." Days later, Cardinal Obando claimed that Ortega's comments were aimed at "sowing hate and struggle against the Church." After the final electoral results were released on November 22, Ortega also made critical references to the role of CSE magistrate Roberto Rivas, an adviser to Cardinal Obando.


At that same rally, Daniel Ortega said to some 10,000 Sandinistas gathered there that "the electoral results have turned into a form of political violence against all Nicaraguans." He added that "the only thing that was clean and transparent here was the attitude of the people, who turned out massively at the polls." Ortega also announced that the Sandinista representatives to the National Assembly would fight to "overhaul" the Electoral Law, which played a major role in the electoral crisis.


On November 6, former Vice President Virgilio Godoy, presidential candidate for the Independent Liberal Party, proposed on behalf of his party and seven others that the transparency crisis in the elections be resolved by analyzing a sample of 10% of the ballot tallies from around the country to determine the trend and size of the irregularities. "The situation is too widespread to be ignored," he said. "There is a substantial number of similar actions all over
the country."


Based on the accumulation of inconsistencies in the electoral process, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) concluded in a preliminary report dated November 4 that "the Nicaraguan process did not meet various of 'the international human rights norms that contain diverse fundamental criteria for free and just elections.' These norms are systematized in the 'Manual on legal, technical and human rights aspects referring to elections,' published by the United Nations Human Rights Center in Geneva in 1994." CENIDH added that "We feel responsible for stating that the combination of inconsistencies evidenced in the electoral process affect the legal and technical guarantees that assure justice in electoral processes and we question whether they have been fulfilled with the 'Principle of Election Authenticity' established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights."


On November 7, after the FSLN had announced that, in line with the law, it would ask for the annulment of the elections in Managua and Managua because, according to its evidence, the irregularities exceeded 50% of the JRVs, former CSE president Mariano Fiallos published an open letter in which he recounted some of the reasons for the electoral crisis. "It is unarguable that, as many have pointed out, there were organizational problems and irregularities in the elections, that abuses were committed in the electoral campaign both by the participants and by other civil and religious organizations, and that isolated actions occurred during the voting and ballot count that put the results of a number of JRVs in doubt. But these actions, all too predictable and predicted, do not constitute a basis for not acknowledging the results of the elections and instead asking for their annulment." Although the position of Fiallos, who had been nominated as foreign minister if the FSLN won the elections, directly contradicted the FSLN's annulment request, no Sandinista leader criticized him. The only comment from a few was: "It's the opinion of one Sandinista militant."


During the review, the FSLN and eight other parties asked at various moments for the total annulment of the elections in Matagalpa, claiming a "double fraud." The first, they charged, occurred during the voting and the second at the hand of Matagalpa CED president, Alberto Blandón, during the review itself. According to the FSLN's legal allegations, 72% of the 917 JRVs in Matagalpa had one or more anomalies: 144 lacked official tallies, 280 had been constituted illegally, 593 had tallies with altered data, 127 had been harassed by rearmed groups that coerced people to vote for the Liberals, etc.

In May 1996, 14 political parties had requested the CSE to suspend the elections in Matagalpa and Jinotega due to the dangerous presence of the pro Alemán armed bands. In September they repeated the request, and as a fallback asked at the very least that 19 JRVs be moved to a safer location. While the CSE decided to do neither, the army did carry out a major operation aimed at pushing the armed groups into unpopulated areas.


Pablo Castillo, an MRS poll watcher in Matagalpa, was strongly critical of CED president Blandón's actions. "Starting with the vote count," he said, "he premeditatedly stirred up the river so that the fishermen with the casting net could catch more. And in Matagalpa the ones with the net were the Liberals." Castillo let it be known that he did not have the express support of the MRS national leadership to defend his party's votes during the review in Matagalpa, which went on from October 24 until November 7 due to the tensions that plagued it. José González, the FSLN's legal representative in Matagalpa made known after the elections that pro Alemán armed bands prevented the poll watchers of nine political parties from entering at least 100 JRVs from that department. González made reference to the "institutionalized paralysis" that dominated Matagalpa's elections.


When the provisional results were announced on November 8, after the review of materials all over the country, parties were provided a three day period in which to challenge the results. On November 11 the FSLN presented evidence to support its petition to totally annul the elections in Matagalpa and Managua and to open a new review of 608 JRVs in 11 other departments. It did not challenge a single JRV in Masaya, Chinandega, Río San Juan or Madriz. The FSLN delivered more than 600 folders sustaining its petition. That same day, the Communist Party and the Nicaraguan Justice Party (PJN) requested the annulment of the elections in the entire country; the Liberal Alliance asked for a review of the mayoral election in Jinotepe; and the Liberal Unity Party (PUL), a review in Masaya. Two popular subscription associations, from San Rafael del Sur and Potosí, asked for a review of their municipal elections. Days later, after the time limit set by the law, the FSLN also requested that the Jinotega elections be totally annulled, arguing that 423 of the 488 JRVs in that department showed serious irregularities. Each JRV had an average of 300 voters.


Even before the CSE announced the definitive elections results, the Liberal Alliance showed signs of fissures. Enrique Sánchez Herdocia pulled his Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN) out of the alliance, saying that Alemán had promised him the Ministry of Government and now was denying it. After the elections, said Sánchez, Alemán "has become absolutist and arrogant, because he believes himself anointed rather than elected by the people and supported by many of us who helped him win the elections." Six members of the Liberal Alliance's 42 seat legislative bench belong to the PLN.


In an even more confusing gesture within the growing confusion, Mónica Baltodano, a member of the FSLN National Directorate, announced on October 28 that the FSLN had proof that Carlos Guadamuz, its official candidate for mayor of Managua, had won that election, and would defend his victory "until the final consequences." Days later, however, without referring again to the Guadamuz case, the FSLN requested the total annulment of Managua's elections due to the irregularities around the review. On November 16, Guadamuz inadvertently admitted his defeat, stating that it was not due to voting irregularities or to the recount, but to "betrayal" by Sandinista leaders who never backed his candidacy and instead asked for votes for two popular subscription candidates: Pedro Solórzano of Viva Managua and Herty Lewites of the SOL Association. After Guadamuz's declarations, no FSLN leader referred to them publicly.


In statements made to envío at the end of November 1995, Mariano Fiallos, at that time still CSE president, referred to the country's crisis with great concern, describing it as a "medievalization" because "Nicaragua today is a series of jurisdictions: the army, the Church, this ministry, that one..." He spoke of "a process of dissolution of the state." About the elections he said: "I no longer see a conspiracy against the elections. What I see is a network of self serving short sighted arrangements. Everything in Nicaragua is marked by this myopia. So much myopia can unleash a landslide which gathers speed, carrying away the elections."


The final electoral results were announced in a graceless ceremony near midnight on Friday, November 22, to a nearly empty auditorium. Before reading the winner's names, CSE president Rosa Marina Zelaya said that after "exhaustively" studying the charges and petitions for annulment of the Managua and Matagalpa elections presented by the FSLN, the CSE had unanimously rejected them. "We concluded that the Managua and Matagalpa elections are perfectly valid and legitimate and represent the people's will," said Zelaya, although she admitted, without giving details, that annulment of "some" JRVs had been accepted.


When giving the "definitive" electoral results on November 22, the CSE made no reference to any variation of numbers with respect to the "preliminary" results released on November 8, after two weeks of vote recounts and tally revisions. Some CSE sources said that there was a "small loss of votes for all parties and an increase in null votes" as a result of the review and recounts, and that the final percentage in the presidential election was Alemán 50.98% and Ortega 37.83%.

Although no changes in vote numbers or percentages were announced, there were changes in the names of some of the winners. The most interesting new name in the complex assignment of National Assembly seats by residual votes was that of Rosa Marina Zelaya's husband, Jorge Samper, who appeared to have won a seat as MRS representative from Managua. This was greatly debated both before and after the announcement, since the residual votes that favored the MRS were not located in Managua, according to norms drafted by the CSE before the October 20 elections, but in Carazo. This change could be explained "legally" by a new norm on residual votes drafted by Zelaya herself in the heat of the electoral crisis. Arnoldo Alemán announced that he would appeal to the Supreme Court, demanding that Alliance representatives who had lost their seats because of such not very transparent assignments by residual vote be reinstated. Other affected parties and candidates also protested avidly against the CSE.


On November 4, CSE President Rosa Marina Zelaya again made light of the electoral disorder that had been surfacing since October 21: "It is true that the electoral process had its problems, its tensions, but in general we have seen the process to be very organized, save some incidents by some bad Nicaraguans who unfortunately abandoned the electoral bags in which the tallies were included." Four days later, during the announcement of the final, post review electoral results, she reiterated that the elections had been "fair, honest and transparent." On that occasion she leveled her criticism of "bad Nicaraguans" at those JRV presidents who had not shown up for duty on election day and who, she promised, would be subject to legal action. She offered not a single piece of quantitative information about either the anomalies detected in the review process or the resulting long list of impugned JRVs submitted by the FSLN.


On November 26 the FSLN made public a "Proposal for Governability," stating its position on the electoral process and on the CSE decision regarding the FSLN's impugning of the electoral results. The FSLN "charges that the CSE, for political convenience, striking a blow to democracy in Nicaragua, minimized the magnitude of fraud so as not to assume the political cost of its management and administration errors, which would oblige it to repeat the elections in Managua and Matagalpa. We can say that no one won in these elections and the people lost." The FSLN notes in the document 14 points that it considers
"urgent" to establish a "national accord." It refers to jobs, the property issue, the armed forces, health, education, etc.
The second of these points proposes "introducing and reaching consensus on a profound reform of the Electoral Law, which will guarantee truly clean and transparent elections, as well as professional, representative and fair electoral authorities." In 1988 there will be elections for the regional autonomous governments in the RAAN and the RAAS, in the Atlantic Coast.


On October 7, two weeks before the elections, US Ambassador John Maisto, speaking at the American University (UAM), presented an evaluation of the Chamorro government and described what should be the economic model for Nicaragua's new government. "On the economic front," he said, "we hope that Nicaragua maintains its same course, moving towards a free market economy. An economy that does not depend on the state to create jobs. An economy that puts long term macroeconomic stability above short term political interests. An economy that adheres to firm and responsible fiscal and monetary policies. And an economy in which not only is private property not confiscated, but pending property demands will be resolved with equity and in conformity with international laws. My government has a firm interest especially in the issue of confiscated properties. We will continue to exercise pressure to resolve claims by US citizens. The resolution of property cases for all claimants, whether Nicaraguans, US citizens, or others, is crucial for the next Nicaraguan government. Only a free and competitive
market economy, with guarantees for private property, will attract the necessary investment to create jobs and reduce the number of poor Nicaraguans."


The US Embassy in Nicaragua made clear in a statement that US aid to the Nicaraguan electoral process included "three principal dimensions: institutional support to the CSE, support to civil society in the form of civic education material, and financing for various US observer groups, in addition to our contribution, together with that of other countries, to the OAS electoral observation mission," which set up its offices in Nicaragua in April 1996. "The OAS did not come to observe, but to legitimize the elections at all costs," say the experts. The over 100 OAS observers were headed up by Oscar Santamaría, ex foreign minister of El Salvador's Cristiani government.

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The Roots of The Electoral Crisis


How Nicaraguans Voted

Observing The Observers

Nicaragua Election Briefs

A New Period For the Nation
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