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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 280 | Noviembre 2004



2004 Municipal elections: FSLN-Convergence Victory in Numbers

The FSLN left the PLC and the government’s APRE eating its dust. With nearly definitive official figures, we can reconstruct the scene of this runaway Sandinista victory.

William Grigsby

The polls predicted a Sandinista victory, but not such a huge one. Before the day was over on Sunday, November 7, the FSLN-Convergence had run away with 14 of the 17 departmental capitals, 87 of the 152 municipalities—including 5 of the 6 that make up Managua’s greater metropolitan area—and 25 of Nicaragua’s 42 largest cities. Of the 90 municipal governments in the 10 departments of the Segovias and the Pacific—the country’s most populated zones—the FSLN won 69, the PLC 20 and APRE 1. What’s more, the Sandinistas swept all the municipalities in the departments of León and Masaya, 12 of Chinandega’s 13 and 7 of Madriz’s 9. With a 100,000-vote lead over the PLC nationwide, the FSLN-Convergence won the majority of municipal governments in 10 of the 17 departments and tied with the PLC in another.

The Resistance Party can also be considered a winner, as it will now govern a municipality—Rio Blanco—for the first time and has become the fourth largest electoral force with its nearly 55,000 votes. Another winner is the indigenous regional party Yatama, which won 3 municipal seats in the northern Caribbean region and a total of 11,000 votes. All the other eight competing parties and alliances, including the PLC and the pro-government APRE alliance dominated by the Conservative Party, came in well below their own predictions, and the smaller ones were virtually wiped off the political map.

How many municipalities
with how large a population?

The FSLN-Convergence held on to 45 of the municipal governments won in 2000 and picked up 42 more. But not all was gain for the FSLN; it lost 7 of the mayoral seats it has governed since 2001—5 to the PLC and 2 to Yatama. In the 87 it won, it will govern a little over 4 million inhabitants, nearly 71% of the national population. The two extremes among these territories are Managua, the capital, and San Juan de Nicaragua, a tiny population in the extreme southeast corner of the country.

APRE—which used the Conservative Party’s traditional structures—held on to 2 of the 5 municipal governments the Conservative Party won in 2000, lost 3 others and won 2 new ones away from the PLC. The 4 it will govern cover less than 1% of the population.

The PLC lost 44 of the mayor’s offices that went Liberal in 2000; 2 of them to APRE, 40 to the FSLN-Convergence, 1 to Yatama and 1 to the Resistance Party. It won 7 new ones, including the newest, San José de Bocay, which separated from El Cuá to become Nicaragua’s 152nd municipality. In total, the PLC won 57 municipal governments, and their mayors will govern 1.5 million inhabitants, just over 25% of the national population. Less than 2% live in Yatama’s 3 municipalities and under 1% in the municipality won by the Resistance.

Ideological shifts?

Of the 11 parties and alliances that ran in these elections, 7 were recognizably anti-Sandinista. Three others could more appropriately be called non-Sandinista: the Liberal Salvation Movement, whose Managua candidate, Sergio García Quintero, left the Convergence a year ago; Christian Alternative, a religious split-off from the Christian Way party led by former Sandinista legislator Orlando Tarden-cilla, and PAMUC, a small progressive Caribbean coast party.

Although it’s more reliable to analyze ideological weight in presidential elections than in municipal ones, where the personal record or reputation of the individual candidate tends to count for more, it could be argued that the ideological correlation between Sandinistas and anti-Sandinis-tas has shifted in favor of the FSLN. As the chart at the bottom of the next page indicates, the proportion of this year’s total vote won by all anti-Sandinista candidates combined was 4.7% lower than their proportion of the total 2000 vote, while the FSLN-Convergence proportion was 3.4% higher. Another way of looking at it is that the FSLN-Convergence picked up 110,384 new votes this year (nearly 84% of the 131,427 increase in voters since 2000) while the anti-Sandinistas lost 467 votes.

The US Embassy in Managua has made every effort possible to reunite the Liberals following the parting of ways between Bolaños and Alemán once Bolaños took office in 2002, but when it still had gotten nowhere by May of this year, it backed the President’s attempt to form his own party. If the Liberal reunification had prospered, it might have encouraged other anti-Sandinista parties that ran separately this year to join forces with the PLC, such as the Christian Way, the Resistance Party and the National Liberal Party, which is the old Somocista Liberal fraction. If everybody who voted for one of the anti-Sandinista parties had voted for one option, the FSLN would only have won 49 municipalities—those where it got over 49.7%.

The weight of abstention

One reason for the massive voter turnout in the 2001 presidential elections was the extreme polarization of the political forces and the post 9-11 panic campaign promoted from the US Embassy regarding a possible Sandinista victory, particularly for its presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega. This year, in contrast, saw no relevant incidents either before or during these elections. The only acts of violence, the most serious of which was the murder of journalist María José Bravo in Santo Tomás, Chontales, occurred after the elections, and in general were headed up by rival Liberal factions.

The real participation level in this electoral event has been a topic of controversy. It’s interesting to note that the majority of opinion polls forecasted between 65% and 70% participation. In absolute terms it was only 52%, but relative to those actually able to vote (i.e. neither out of the country, deceased or lacking their voter identity card), it was over 73%.

Abstention is at best only a relatively reliable indicator. We all know that Nicaragua lives off the family remittances sent home by over a million Nicaraguans residing mainly in Costa Rica and the United States. But when it comes to interpreting electoral data, few remember that mass of Nicaraguans who are out of the country. The top-right chart on the opposite page, prepared with official Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) figures and calculations provided by CSE magistrate Emmet Lang, illustrates this point.

There is no available data on the real electoral rolls by municipality or even by department, so any calculations of participation must rely on the master national roll, including the estimated 130,000 deceased voters who have not yet been cleaned from it. With that caveat, we present the calculated rate of participation by department in the second chart on the opposite page.

The success of the FSLN-Convergence alliance

A large part of the FSLN’s success is due to its policy of alliances, which involves the five parties, the party fractions and the individual political figures and independent local personalities and leaders that make up the Convergence. Of the 87 mayors elected on the FSLN ticket, 17 come from these allies: 5 are independents, 3 are from the Resistance, 3 belong to the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), 2 are Conservatives, 2 are Liberals, 1 is from the Christian Unity Movement (MUC) and 1 is a Social Christian. Of the deputy mayors who ran with an FSLN mayoral candidate, 28 are Liberals, 16 are independent, 14 are from the MUC, 9 are Conservatives, 9 are from the MRS, 3 are from the Resistance and 1 is a Social Christian. These allied candidates allowed the FSLN to win 12 municipal governments for the first time: Diriá and Granada with Conservative candidates, Nindirí with a Liberal, Santo Tomás del Norte and Desembocadura del Río Grande with Resistance candidates, Yalagüina and La Concepción with MRS candidates and Acoyapa, Boaco, Masaya and San Juan de Nicaragua with independent personalities. In other municipalities won by allied candidates, such as Diriamba and Altagracia, the FSLN had won in 2000 but by very few votes, while in others such as Jinotepe, Nandaime and San Juan de Oriente it had lost control in 2000, in the Jinotepe case due to a split among the Sandinistas.

The municipalities with the greatest political impact are Granada, Masaya and Boaco, capitals of their respective departments. Given that Boaco is a Liberal fiefdom, the FSLN-Convergence victory there is extraordinary and is largely thanks to Mayor-elect Vivian Orozco, who, though much more progressive than Boaco’s extremely conservative society, is a successful rancher with no known political affiliation and recognized as “good people.” If her victory was a surprise, its margin was a shocker: more than a thousand votes ahead of the PLC and a hair short of an absolute majority (49.53%). In 2000, with a party militant as a candidate, the FSLN got 4,561 votes. This time it pulled almost double that (8,290) with an estimated participation of over 52%. The results weren’t good in the rest of the department, however: the FSLN was 6% down from the votes it had won in Santa Lucía in 2000 and 3% down from the votes in Camoapa, while picking up 9% in Teustepe and an insignificant amount in the other two municipalities. In all, including the departmental capital, the FSLN got 9,000 more votes, for a 13.5% growth in the department over 2000.

Chontales, Masaya and Granada

The Sandinistas also made gains in the neighboring department of Chontales. The FSLN-Convergence won Acoyapa and retained Juigalpa, the departmental capital, with a substantial increase in the percentage of votes over 2000—from 39.7% to 48.4%. In Santo Tomás, the provisional victory went to the FSLN-Convergence over APRE, in a race so tight that it’s still being contested at the close of this edition. Although the mayoral candidate was from the FSLN, many votes were pulled to that ticket by the prestige of his running mate from the Convergence, Mauricio Ruiz Matamoros, a leader in the regional transport business with no party affiliation. While the department as a whole registered a little over 3,000 more votes than in 2000, the FSLN-Convergence increased its vote by almost 6,000, the PLC dropped nearly 4,000 and APRE got 1,600 more than the Conservative Party did when it ran alone four years ago.

The categorical FSLN-Convergence win in the municipality of Masaya is as great a surprise as Boaco, and for similar reasons. A vote-by-vote struggle among the three main contenders was anticipated because Masaya was a PLC electoral bastion throughout the nineties, yet views President Bolaños, who ran on the PLC ticket then went his own way, as a favorite son. Nonetheless, Orlando Noguera, a Sandinista government official who distanced himself from the FSLN structures years ago then went with the MRS, got twice as many votes as the PLC and almost five times as many as APRE. Thanks in part to the big jump in participation this year (41,350 valid votes compared to 27,210 in 2000), the FSLN ticket got 84.2% more votes than four years ago.

That, however, is where any similarity with Boaco ends. If the victory in the capital of Masaya was notable, the results in the rest of the department were extraordinary. The FSLN won all nine municipalities, including those that were supposedly the most anti-Sandinista: La Concepción, where the Resistance took 13% of the votes that would otherwise have gone to the PLC, and Nindirí, where President Bolaños has his home. In the department as a whole, the FSLN-Convergence got 6.7% more votes than the FSLN did alone in 2000, exceeding even the combined votes of the two main Liberal groupings.

In Granada the surprise was that the Liberals didn’t even figure in the race; the competition was between the FSLN-Convergence and APRE, to the point that Convergence candidate Álvaro Chamorro Mora, the Conservative mayor at the end of the seventies and tourism minister during the Chamorro government, won by a bare 10 vote margin. The division in that municipality, particularly in the city itself, was social: APRE won the center of the city, cradle of the Conservative oligarchy, while the FSLN won in the surrounding poor neighborhoods, where there are no traces of progress. In the department’s other municipalities, Nandaime was a shoe-in for the FSLN, which also predictably lost its mayoral seat in Diriomo and won in Diriá with another Conservative candidate ally from the Convergence.

Rivas, Jinotepe, Carazo

The PLC won the departmental capital of Rivas as predicted, but elsewhere in the department with the same name the FSLN held onto Cárdenas, San Juan del Sur, Belén (the latter with 1,100 more votes than in 2000) and Altagracia, despite some adverse factors. The FSLN snatched Buenos Aires away from APRE, tripling its votes compared to 2000, and won Tola back from the PLC, which literally stole it four years ago because Alemán didn’t want an opposition mayor taxing the immense properties he owns there. The FSLN also won Potosí away from the PLC, with almost a thousand-vote difference. The PLC only won Moyogalpa, where the FSLN was relegated to third place behind the Resistance. APRE won San Jorge, virtually annexed to Rivas, pushing the PLC into third place. As a whole, 5,900 more people voted in Rivas than in 2000, with 4,000 more voting for the FSLN while the PLC stagnated. As a result, the FSLN won the overall departmental vote by 43% to the PLC’s 37.4%.

In Carazo, nearly a thousand additional votes in the departmental capital of Jinotepe gave the victory to businessman Álvaro “Chimín” Portocarrero of the MRS, who united the Sandinista vote. In addition, the FSLN held on to Diriamba and won Dolores. In reality, these three municipalities virtually form a single city of nearly 90,000 inhabitants. The FSLN-Convergence also retained San Marcos and won back La Paz, Santa Teresa and El Rosario. It only lost in La Conquista, a PLC bastion, although it increased its votes there by 30%. At a departmental level, a shift in voter preferences gave the FSLN-Convergence what can only be described as a categorical victory: with barely 700 more votes than in 2000, the FSLN’s share grew by 4,103 while the PLC lost some 6,000.

In general, the FSLN-Convergence had optimal results in the southwestern part of the country, winning 26 of the 31 municipalities in Masaya, Granada, Carazo and Rivas by more than 30,000 votes over the PLC.

Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Estelí

The results also exceeded expectations in the extreme northwest (León and Chinandega) and in the three northern departments known as the Segovias (Nueva Segovia, Madriz and Estelí). The FSLN-Convergence won 22 of the 23 municipalities in León and Chinandega, and 15 of the 27 in the Segovias. Furthermore, it won 33 of the 38 municipalities in Madriz, Estelí, Chinandega and León by an absolute majority.

Somoto, the departmental capital of Madriz, will have an FSLN government for the third consecutive period, after the resounding victory of Sandinista candidate Manuel Maldonado in 1996. Barely 400 more citizens of Somoto voted this year than in 2000, but the FSLN upped its votes by over a thousand, pulling nearly 60% of the total. It also held on to Telpaneca, recovered San José de Cusmapa and San Lucas, and won Yalagüina, Palacagüina and Las Sabanas for the first time. In total, Madriz had 6,757 new voters, of which the FSLN-Convergence won 6,378 to only 33 more for the PLC. Madriz also stands out as the department with the highest turnout of registered voters (76.4%), followed by its neighbor Nueva Segovia (71.5%)

In Nueva Segovia, the FSLN-Convergence increased its vote in the departmental capital of Ocotal by more than 600, even though nearly 500 fewer citizens voted compared to 2000, thus winning with almost 57%. It held onto Jalapa with a thousand additional voters and recovered both San Fernando and Dipilto, which the FSLN lost in 2000. At a departmental level, the number of voters increased by some 7,000, with the FSLN attracting 4,500 more voters than in 2000. As a result, it increased its share of the vote by nearly two points to 45%, while the PLC dropped almost nine points to under 43%, losing 2 of the 10 municipal governments it won in 2000.

In Estelí, the FSLN easily held on to the municipalities of Estelí and Condega and recovered San Juan de Limay and Pueblo Nuevo, in all three cases with over 49% of the votes. Although it won with 68% of the vote in the department, it only got 260 votes more than in 2000, because the overall turnout dropped by nearly 8,000. The PLC’s defeat was even greater than the FSLN’s victory in that it lost a catastrophic 10,000 votes compared to 2000.

Chinandega and León

The FSLN-Convergence’s resounding victory over the other candidates in the department of Chinandega was only relative given that the turnout barely topped that of 2000. The abstention was most evident in the departmental capital, where the votes dropped by over 5,600—almost the same number the PLC lost, leaving it in third place behind APRE. Thanks to this abstention, the FSLN ticket won an absolute majority, despite getting only 377 more votes than in 2000. In the neighboring city of El Viejo, the overall vote actually dropped below the figures for 2000, but the FSLN picked up 1,500 more votes. The port town of Corinto registered nearly 1,200 more votes, but the FSLN only pulled enough of them to hang on to the municipal government by a 1.7% margin.

In the only municipality the FSLN lost in this department, Cinco Pinos, Daniel Ortega directly imposed the FSLN’s candidate, Mailyn Mendoza, against the counsel of local leaders. Nonetheless, it only lost to the winning PLC by 7 votes, with APRE, which ran former Sandinista mayor Henry Maradiaga, placing second with a single vote more than the FSLN. At the departmental level, the FSLN pulled an additional 14,264 votes and the PLC fell by 4,306, leaving a difference between the two of over 33,000 votes.

The FSLN will govern the entire department of León, having increased its overall vote by over 10,000, well above the department’s increase of just 4,000 voters compared to 2000. Its lead over the second-place PLC is almost 25,000 votes. In the capital, where nearly 3,000 fewer people voted, the FSLN dropped 1,500 votes and the PLC over 4,200. The opposite happened in Nagarote, another Liberal bastion until Sandinista Mayor Juan Hernández changed the city over the four years since his surprising victory in 2000: while 4,000 new voters came out, the FSLN pulled 5,000 more votes and the PLC 3,000 fewer. In the other municipalities, the voting was very similar to past elections, but the FSLN-Convergence recovered Achuapa and El Jicaral from the PLC.

Jinotega and Matagalpa

In the department of Jinotega, the FSLN-Convergence victory in the capital city has special meaning. In the last elections, local Sandinistas cried bitter tears in the municipality of Jinotega over the defeat of Homero Guatemala, their most outstanding leader in many years, and privately accused their national leadership of having negotiated this post away in exchange for Jalapa, in Nueva Segovia, in two close races with the Liberals. This time the victory left no room for doubt. While the 13,000 votes for Sandinista candidate Eugenio López only topped 2000 by 0.36%, they left the PLC’s 9,379 and APRE’s 4,613 far behind.

It wasn’t the close race expected, in part because the APRE vote collapsed outside of the city’s better-off sections. The Sandinistas swept the poor neighborhoods and the Liberals maintained their hegemony in the municipality’s rural districts. Although the tendency was marked from the early hours of the night, the FSLN preferred to hold off celebrating until 3 am, at which point the mayor-elect paid an emotional tribute to Guatemala, who died on March 8.

The FSLN, which picked up 2,900 new votes over 2000 also recovered La Concordia, but the PLC won the six other municipalities in this center-north department bordering Honduras even though its overall vote in the department dropped by 7,279.

In Matagalpa, voters rewarded the work of outgoing mayor Zadrach Zeledón by electing Sandinista Nelson Artola as the municipality’s new mayor. In 2000, the FSLN had squeaked through with a winning 44.8% of the votes in this departmental capital, but this time, with nearly 3,000 more voters, the FSLN won an absolute majority of 54.2%. In only 3 of the department’s 13 municipalities—Matagalpa, Río Blanco and San Isidro—did more voters turn out than in 2000, and the PLC won none of them. The FSLN-Convergence held onto San Ramón (although with fewer votes), Tuma La Dalia and San Isidro, retook Esquipulas and won Muy Muy for the first time. The Resistance Party surprised everybody by winning Río Blanco away from the PLC with a comfortable margin and leaving the FSLN with less than a thousand votes. The PLC won the other six municipalities in Matagalpa, but with fewer votes than in 2000 in three of them—Sébaco, Rancho Grande and Matiguás. While there were 7,000 fewer voters at a departmental level, the FSLN picked up 4,000 votes. The PLC lost 5,000, which is almost exactly what the Resistance pulled after deciding to run alone rather than under the PLC insignia, as in 2000.

North and South Caribbean

Perhaps the most painful losses for the FSLN are the two departmental capitals in the North and South Atlantic Regions (RAAN and RAAS, respectively). The work of outgoing Sandinista mayor Guillermo Espinoza in Bilwi, RAAN’s regional capital, wasn’t outstanding enough to beat Yatama, a regional party dominated by Miskitos, which won a close race with 38.9% of the vote over the FSLN’s 36.2%. A first assessment by local Sandinistas points to a low turnout in the city’s Creole neighborhoods and the opposite in the indigenous ones.

Yatama, which has regained some of the dominance it had in the RAAN in 1990, will also govern Waspam, where it brought out a massive vote among the Río Coco’s Miskito communities, almost doubling the number of valid votes i that municipality in 2000. Its comfortable win destroyed the hopes of the other regional party, PAMUC, whose strength is concentrated along the same river. The third municipality Yatama won is Prinzapolka, also predominantly Miskito, where it came within an inch of an absolute majority.

Of the four municipalities the Sandinistas won last time (Bilwi, Bonanza, Rosita and Waspam), it lost Rosita to the PLC as anticipated, only holding onto Bonanza—although by fewer votes overall than last time. This poor showing is reflected in the final overall vote count in the RAAN: barely seven votes more for the FSLN than in 2000, despite 6,000 new voters.

In the RAAS, the FSLN also lost the regional capital, Bluefields. The result was an upset, and the margin so close it was challenged by FSLN activities who insist that the Liberal-dominated Departmental Electoral Council stole 300 of its votes. True or not, there were over 1,000 fewer valid votes in Bluefields than in 2000, and they appear to belong to Sandinista voters: four years ago, 5,019 voted Sandinista and this year only 4,207, which is a far cry from the 23,817 votes for the FSLN in the 2001 general elections. The main reason for the drop in the vote appears to be the Sandinista militants’ distaste for their party’s mayoral candidate, Lawrence Omier, who not only left the FSLN some years ago, but then successfully ran for mayor of Bluefields in 1996 on the PLC ticket.

The predictions ran true in the other municipalities of the RAAS: the FSLN recovered Kukra Hill and will govern Pearl Lagoon and Desem-bocadura del Río Grande for the first time. The massive abstention in the RAAS—also anticipated—was the main reason the FSLN fell from 16,884 votes in the last municipal elections to 16,231 this time, although at press time some vote counts were not yet official.

Managua and the greater metropolitan area

The results in the municipality of Managua were no surprise. Almost all polls predicted that FSLN candidate Dionisio Marenco would win by about 10% over PLC candidate Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, Jr., and leave APRE’s Alejandro Fiallos even further behind. The only surprise was how much further. APRE pulled less than half the votes the Conservative Party won when it ran alone in 2002 (see chart below).

A total of 321,430 valid votes were cast in the capital city of Managua, which has 601,780 registered voters, for a turnout of a little over 53%, giving a higher abstention rate than in 2000. This absence of voters mainly hurt the anti-Sandinistas, since they totaled 56% of the vote in 2000 compared to the 54.2% pulled by all seven anti-Sandinista candidates combined this time around.

In addition to winning Managua’s mayoral seat, the FSLN got 8 of its 18 Council members, which means that “Nicho” Marenco will govern with a majority, since the mayor also has a vote in the Municipal Council and it counts double in case of a tie. The PLC got 6 Council members and APRE 2, with the other two still undecided at the close of this edition. APRE may get one of them, and the other will go to either the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), whose mayoral candidate was former Sandinista comandante Edén Pastora, or the Christian Way.

One municipality that was a surprise loss for the FSLN-Convergence was San Rafael del Sur, which boasts the tourist beach attractions of Pochomil, Masachapa and Montelimar. Local Sandinista leaders attribute the defeat to the candidate, Juan Antonio Mendieta, a Liberal whom many citizens question both politically and personally. The figures seem to confirm this thesis, since the municipality had 3,000 more voters this year, but the FSLN dropped by 1,250 votes and the PLC picked up barely 270. The FSLN won San Francisco Libre, although the PLC fought hard and the difference was under 100 votes. The PLC won Villa El Carmen, improving its 2000 vote enough to neutralize the Sandinista increase, which was 50% over its 2000 results.

The FSLN almost made a clean sweep of Managua’s greater metropolitan area, comprising the municipalities of Managua, Tipitapa, Ticuantepe, El Crucero, Ciudad Sandino and Mateare and home to nearly a third of the nation’s population (over 1.78 million). The citizens in both Tipitapa and Ticuantepe validated the work of outgoing mayors César Vásquez and Manuel Ampié, respectively, by giving the FSLN ticket an absolute majority, significantly increasing its 2000 results in both cases. In Ciudad Sandino, where the overall vote count barely grew at all, the FSLN gained 900 new votes. The FSLN won Mateare from the PLC, but each vote was so hotly contested that there was only a 22-vote spread in the final count. In El Crucero, where Arnoldo Alemán has his famous “house arrest” hacienda, the PLC fell 6% from its 2000 win with 47.95% of the vote but did just well enough to win again. Former contra leader now Convergence ally Azucena Ferrey only pulled 191 votes more for the FSLN ticket than it got in 2000, keeping it in second place with almost 34.7%, with APRE attracting nearly 18.7% for third.

Tidbits on the Municipal Councils

At a national level, 6,703 fewer people voted for Municipal Council members than for mayor. Checking among the competing parties, it appears that only the two main ones—the FSLN and the PLC—lost votes for that reason. While this phenomenon appears not to have affected any seats for them, the CSE had not reported on the definitive composition of the Municipal Councils by the time envío went to press.

In any event, it is anticipated that there will be more Council members from the small parties than in 2000. The local governments will thus gain in representation, which will hopefully result in a richer and more fruitful debate.

William Grigsby Vado is a Nicaraguan journalist.

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