|Central American University - UCA
Number 7 | Diciembre 1981
Political Parties In Nicaragua Today In Relation To Proposed Legislation
The objective of National Unity was once again ratified by the Government, this time with the proposal to institutionalize the political parties.
INTRODUCTION:The introduction by the Frente Sandinista of a bill concerning political parties has created a new political situation in Nicaragua. This article presents some general observations with respect to this situation. We will look at the existing political parties in Nicaragua without going into their history or a detailed examination of them. We will present the main points of the bill but will not analyze it in depth because it is presently under study in the Council of State and may undergo extensive revision. With this article we hope to facilitate an understanding of the political reality in Nicaragua at this time.
GENERAL POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE AT THE TIME OF THE BILL’S INTRODUCTION.During the session of the Council of State on Nov. 18 of this year, the delegation of the Frente Sandinista (made up of Comandante Carlos Núñez, Comandante Dora María Téllez, Martha Cranshaw, Vanessa Castro, Federico López and Onofre Guevara) introduced a bill concerning the activities of political parties.
The introduction of the bill brought renewed interests in the political parties, comparable to that which existed during the Forum for discussion of National Problems last June. The press began to dedicate considerable space to an analysis of the bill, which appeared at a time when few political analysts would have predicted it.
This bill opened up dialogue among all of the political groups and became a point of reference around which all would have to take clear positions (to agree, to disagree, to propose modifications, to present alternative bills, to accept the spirit of the bill, to reject it, etc).
To understand the effects of this bill, it is necessary to look at two facets of political life in Nicaragua today:
a) Mobilization and popular participation at a grass roots level. This popular participation was decisive in bringing about the victory in July, 1979 and has characterized the Nicaraguan process ever since. Some examples include the mobilizations celebrating the first and second anniversaries of the triumph, the May 1st celebrations in 1980 and 1981, the Halcón Vista mobilizations. This facet also includes the daily participation of the people in the popular organizations.
b) Traditional or party politics. Many of the traditional parties participated to varying degrees during the final stage of the insurrection, as well as in the first stage of the reconstruction period. Alfonso Robelo, leader of the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), was a member of the Government Junta in the first eight months following the victory. Since the triumph, this facet of political life has suffered constant variations in intensity. There have been periods in which the parties were very active and then periods of prolonged silence and non-participation.
POLITICAL PARTIES IN NICARAGUA TODAY.Two and a half years after the fall of Somoza, a number of legally recognized political parties exist which, for the most part, have the possibility of participating in the Council of State, whether or not they do, in fact, participate.
Besides the Frente Sandinista, there are ten political parties at the present time. This political spectrum is comprised of:
a) Parties which have formed the Democratic Coordinating Committee.
1- Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN)
2- Social Christian Party (PSC)
3- Social Democrat Party (PSD)
4- Constitutionalist Liberal Movement (MLC)
(The Conservative Party does not belong officially to the Democratic Coordinating Committee, but in terms of this analysis, we will consider it with this bloc).
In spite of differences with respect to political and economic platforms, these groups are able to unite around common positions when they debate with the Frente.
b) Parties allied with the Frente and which, along with it, form the Patriotic Revolutionary Front.
1- Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC)
2- Independent Liberal Party (PLI)
3- Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN)
c) The other two parties are:
1- Popular Action Movement (MAP)
2- Nicaraguan Communist Party (PCN)
These last two parties define themselves as progressive. In the last two years, they have not always agreed with the political positions outlined by the Frente Sandinista, which has caused their relationship with the Frente to fluctuate.
THE PARTIES AND THE COUNCIL OF STATE.The Council of State has a co-legislative function and is the parliamentary body of Nicaragua. Participating in the Council are the representatives elected by the political parties, the popular organizations (representatives of the Sandinista Defense Committees, AMNLAE, the July 19th Sandinista Youth Group, etc)., both Catholic and Protestant churches, campesino organizations, small and medium agricultural producers unions, workers’ unions and business groups.
The Council of State emerged shortly after the victory. It was formed by the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction and carries out legislative functions. As a collegial organ, the Council participates in the writing and promulgation of laws which, during the last two years, have formed the legal basis of the Nicaraguan process. In the past year, the Council has passed legislation on agrarian reform, decapitalization and the Work Code, among others.
All political parties have a seat on the Council with the exception of the Social Democratic party, which was formed after the creation of the Council and has just recently applied for membership, and MAP, a very small party which has had irreparable differences with the way in which the process is being conducted. The Communist Party, while not having formal representation, is represented through CAUS, the Action and Unity Syndicate which is the union affiliated with the Communist Party.
The Council of State was created in order to provide a dynamic parliamentary structure in which authentic representation of all social, economic and political sectors of the country which struggled against the tyranny could participate – a collegial organism that would respond to the necessities and demands of the new situation in Nicaragua.
In the closing ceremony of the Council’s second ordinary session on December 4, the bishop of the Atlantic Coast, Salvador Schlaefer, representing the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, said, “As the Episcopal Conference, we support the Council of State which is the most representative platform of the people and which has learned how to articulate and harmonize their desires with social justice. This is a fine art and we know the effort that this organism has made to improve the measures, especially those affecting persons who have suffered marginalization and injustice”.
The Council of State is a member of the International Inter-parliamentary Union. This union accepted Nicaragua at this year’s annual meeting in Manila in consideration of the work which the Council had accomplished in its first session.
In 1980, most of the political parties that form the Democratic Coordinating Committee temporarily withdrew from the Council without giving up their seat or their privileges of legal immunity. At that time, the method of representation and the control of the Council were under discussion. At the root of the debate was the deeper problem of political power in Nicaragua. While the parties of the Democratic Coordinating Committee wanted a Council of State governed by traditional criteria of representation, the FSLN used the criteria of representation based on participation in the struggle against Somoza and participation in the popular organizations of the reconstruction. Under this concept, the worker and campesino organizations and the CDS’s have significant representation for having been the most active sectors in the struggle both before and after the victory. For the first time in Nicaragua’s history, campesinos, workers, and people from the barrios have representatives from their own ranks participating in a parliamentary structure of the government.
The withdrawal from the Council by some of the parties was the product of differences in political concepts of what the legislative structure should be in a process such as the Nicaraguan one. Some of the parties have returned to the Council of State (MDN, PSC) in order to participate in the discussion of the proposed legislation.
POLITICAL PARTIES AMONG THE NICARAGUAN PEOPLEWe have visited different neighborhoods and outlying areas of Managua, including popular barrios such as Ciudad Sandino, Monseñor Lezcano and San Judas, middle-class neighborhoods such as Las Brisas and Altamira, and some wealthier areas such as Las Colinas and Eduardo Contreras, and outlying areas such as Los Brasiles. We did not find any local party headquarters. Some parties, such as the MDN and the PLI, have central national offices. Some parties of the Democratic Coordinating Committee have limited programs with women and youth, and some parties edit small newspapers with very limited circulation.
Speaking with the people of these neighborhoods, we confirmed that the parties in general do not carry out grass-roots work in the barrios of Managua. They have meetings with their national leaders and periodically hold congresses with delegates; recently some have had elections for their leadership. These parties have held some public rallies and have supported others such as the May 1st demonstration planned by the Workers Confederation of Nicaragua.
The organizational level and degree of representation of the parties can in no way be considered as an alternative to that of the Sandinista Defense Committees and the popular organizations whose work at the grass roots level is widespread.
The proposed party laws, although they have a vital importance for the institutionalization of political life, are not a priority at the grass roots level. People within the barrios often do not even know the names of the parties, much less their platform, work, and programs.
THE BILLThe proposed bill presented by the FSLN to the Council of State includes:
a) a rationale of the bill
b) five considerations
c) fourteen articles
The most important points of the rationale are:
a- To confirm the FSLN’s role as leader of the Nicaraguan process.
b- To underline the magnitude of the reconstruction process accomplished since the victory.
c- To point out the validity of the revolutionary power, despite international pressures and internal problems.
d- To enumerate some of the most important achievements accomplished to date:
1- Ordering the judicial process of the country.
2- Insuring the principal political rights of its citizens.
3- Guaranteeing the activity of political groups.
4- Establishing the freedom to criticize as a basis for strengthening the process.
e- To announce that the time has come to regulate the activities of the political parties in order to contribute to the institutionalization of the Popular Sandinista Revolution.
f- To present the bill as a contribution to the nation’s peace, reconstruction, and defense of its sovereignty (which is threatened by political aggression from the most reactionary sectors of the North American Government).
This rationale constitutes the political foundation for the law. It summarizes the most important aspects of the political situation, explaining the significance of this bill and its consequences.
Principle points of the bill:
a) It grants political parties the liberty to form and function provided they observe democratic principles that are popular, pluralistic, anti-imperialist and anti-racist.
b) Political parties are those political organizations which integrate themselves into the Council of State.
c) All requirements and procedures to be a party will be presented to the Council.
d) Organizations which do not participate in the Council of State will not be given legal status.
e) It enumerates the rights and duties of the parties.
f) If gives the cases under which a party can be canceled or suspended.
We will not attempt a detailed analysis of each section of the bill because it is still under discussion and may be modified considerably before reaching its final form. After the bill is passed, we will then examine it in much more detail. One thing that should be noted is that the bill does not mention elections, it only regulates party activities. Official statements continue to speak of 1985 as the year in which elections will be carried out.
STATE OF THE DISCUSSION OF THE BILL AS OF DECEMBER 10It was first thought that the definitive discussion of the law would take place in the ordinary session of the Council of State on November 25; this did not materialize. On Monday, November 23, a special commission of the Council was formed to work exclusively with the matter of the party laws. This commission met with representatives of the Government Junta and the Ministry of Justice, and then on November 28 it met with all of the political parties separately and collected their suggestions, proposals and alternative bills.
In the last meeting of the ordinary session of the Council on December 4, this commission sent a note asking for an extension for presenting its findings, given the large amount of work and time required to process the proposals. This request was granted. Although the Council of State will not resume regular session until May 4, 1982, it is expected to reconvene in “extraordinary” session within the next few days in order to definitively resolve and legislate the Law of Political Parties. It is probable that a definitive version of the law will be approved before the end of December.
INITIAL REACTIONS OF THE PARTIESWhile in general the parties initially reacted with surprise and approval to the opening of discussions on parties, the following week they began to voice their distinct opinions.
The PLI and PSN, allies of the Frente in the Revolutionary Patriotic Front, accepted the proposed law in its entirety:
Rodolfo Robelo Herrera: Vice-president of the PLI, said, “The mere fact of presenting the bill legalizes the political pluralism of the revolutionary government, which has been practiced since July 19, 1979. El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 20.
Guillermo Mejía, of the popular Social Christian Party, stated that his party was completely in agreement with the creation of a law regarding political parties. Barricada, Nov. 21.
Regarding parties of the Coordinating Committee, those who immediately began to comment were the leaders of the:
Democratic Conservative Party, who, while calling on all the parties who withdrew in November 1980 to return to the Council of State in order to discuss the bill, criticized it on various points:
a) For separating the law governing parties from the question of elections.
b) For the obligation which the bill places on the parties to participate in the Council of State in order to be recognized as parties.
c) For the assumption of the leadership role by the Frente Sandinista.
Social Democrat Party, who made the criticism that because it does not presently have representation in the Council of State, it would not be considered as a political group. It should be noted that the PSD was never in the Council of State but began its process for incorporation into the Council a few days after the bill was introduced.
Constitutionalist Liberal Movement, who said it “accepts with enthusiasm the bill that is worked out and refined within the context of political liberty of the citizens”.
After the first reactions of the parties and their meetings with members of the Council’s special commission, there have been few public statements relating to the bill. At the level of traditional party politics, there is great interest in how the question will be resolved. To date, all the parties have approved of the fact that the situation of the parties will be debated and legislated.
SOME CLOSING COMMENTSA- What does “Institutionalization of the Revolution” mean?
The bill and the debate concerning the parties are an irreversible fact. Both the parties and the Frente agree completely on the need to institutionalize political life through a “law of party activity”. But what does “institutionalization of the revolution” mean to the Frente? We think that through the law they are trying to formalize the institutionalization or juridical regulation of the changes and modifications that the popular revolution has been effecting. It is creating solid juridical bases that legalize and regulate all the new aspects that have arisen in the last two and a half years. The institutionalization cannot be understood otherwise. The revolution is non-static and in motion, and it is impossible to institutionalize motion. But it is possible to institutionalize the processes by which the revolution is carried out.
B- Negotiable and non-negotiable points.
The bill has revived the dialogue among all the political groups. But which of its components are negotiable, and which are not in this debate?
It is only possible to speculate, but it seems fairly certain that the Frente Sandinista will not negotiate the elements expressed in the Rationale because that synthesizes their vision of Nicaragua today and their position of being the leader of the process. It also seems unlikely that the Frente would negotiate the role of the Council of State, delineated in the bill, as an institutional, parliamentary manifestation of consolidated popular power. We think that all the other articles and “administrative” norms of the bill are subject to modifications and will be on the table for discussion.
C- Will the parties of the Coordinating Committee accept the role assigned to them in the Council of State?
The Council of State is the collegial, legislative and pluralistic body offered by the Revolution. It is the way in which the parties, as well as all other sectors, can participate in the Government.
Taking this into consideration as well as the reality of no elections until 1985, which the Frente announced shortly after the triumph and which resulted in the existing restrictions on electoral activities, the parties of the Committee are faced with the definitive and serious choice of participating or not in this organism. The political parties are structures which make, reproduce and live politics. If they don’t engage in political activity, they risk perishing. If the Nicaraguan political parties don’t participate in the activities of the Council they run the risk of slowly dying, not by repression but by weakening their reason for being. The parties do little work at the grass-roots level. Their activities here can be called “superstructural”. If they do not participate in this “superstructure” of traditional party politics in the Council, there is a possibility of their disappearing.
D- The timing of the bill.
The parties of the Coordinating Committee draw their members primarily from the ranks of those business and economic sectors which are indispensable to the mixed economy which the government wants to maintain, and the bill certainly could be considered as a response to the wishes of those sectors.
The leaders of the process have not addressed the issue of timing but we should consider that one of the key points in the present political reality in Nicaragua is the present threat of intervention. What relation do American interventionist possibilities have with Nicaraguan parties and the bill? Legislation which respects party work, an effective agreement which respects the activities of all the parties, can be an important contribution to national unity. Thus we consider that the bill regarding parties is, in itself, a clear anti-interventionist measure in that it builds upon the unity of the people on the issue of intervention.