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Cablegate: Nicaragua: The Pacto Strikes a Double Blow Against

VZCZCXRO4050
OO RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0209/01 0521943
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 211943Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2120
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000209

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN AND DRL
NSC FOR ALVARADO/FISK
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR BONICELLI, CARDENAS, KITE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: THE PACTO STRIKES A DOUBLE BLOW AGAINST
THE OPPOSITION AND FREE ELECTIONS

REF: MANAGUA 153

Classified By: Charge Richard Sanders, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) On February 20, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)
delivered a double blow to democratic opposition efforts to
unify in the November municipal elections. First, ignoring
an appeal by all parties (other than the FSLN), the CSE voted
to confirm the municipal electoral calendar which requires
all political alliances to register by March 3 and all
candidates to register by March 14. In a second, and more
devastating decision, the CSE stripped Eduardo Montealegre of
the presidency of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) party
and handed it to his arch-rival Eliseo Nunez. Montealege has
reorganized his earlier movement, "Vamos con Eduardo," and is
urging his former supporters to register under the banner of
the Independent Liberal Party (PLI). The CSE decision
effectively eliminates the ALN as the leading anti-Pacto
party, exacerbates the division among the Liberals, and
leaves little time for the opposition parties to find and
register a suitable alternative for the upcoming elections.
Moreover, the decisions will reinforce the control of
ex-President Arnoldo Aleman over the Liberals and the
continuing power of the Pacto between Aleman and President
Ortega for the foreseeable future. End Summary.


MOVING UP THE ELECTORAL CALENDAR
--------------------------------

2. (U) On February 20, the CSE issued a decision to confirm
its earlier draft electoral calendar for the November
municipal elections. The new calendar requires that all
political alliances register by March 3 and that all
candidates for the elections be registered by March 14.
Candidates names will be published by April 14. By
comparison, in the November 2004 municipal elections,
candidates could register between May 7 and July 16 and
alliances had to be declared by May 7. The leading political
parties had written to the CSE opposing the draft calendar
and requested at least a one month delay in registration.
Unlike in previous elections, when the calendar was mutually
agreed by the parties and CSE through negotiation, the CSE
summarily rejected the parties' request and voted to uphold
the initial draft. Magistrates Emett Lang, Jose Luis
Villavicencio, Jose Miguel Cordoba and Roberto Rivas voted in
favor the decision. Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)
magistrates Luis Benavidez, Jose Marenco Cardenal and Rene
Herrera voted against the new calendar.

3. (U) CSE Chief Magistrate Rivas explained that the decision
to move up the calendar was made because all the parties had
sufficient time to prepare for the elections and that the CSE
needed additional time to prepare due to the lack of
resources. He noted that all parties were informed of the
elections on November 5, 2007 and thus had a year to prepare,
while in the previous elections parties were not notified
until January or February of the election year.

4. (C) The change in the dates for alliance and candidate
registration effectively ends the agreement between the ALN
and PLC to put up joint candidates, selected via primaries
(reftel). The agreement called for candidates to be selected
at the municipal level by consensus and, if consensus could
not be reached, by means of primary elections to be held in
April. With slightly more than two weeks until candidate
registration, ALN and PLC party officials tell us that
organizing primaries will be practically impossible. PLC
President Jorge Castillo Quant, cynically shedding crocodile
tears, publicly "regretted" the decision and suggested it
would "force" the PLC to individually select candidates
("dedazo") instead of through an open primary process -- an
outcome the PLC leadership had been seeking for some time.
PLC Deputy Enrique Quinonez, who is running for vice-mayor of
Managua against Aleman's hand-picked crony, Maria Haydee
Osunza Ruiz, denounced the decision "a fraud," called upon
the Liberal magistrates of the CSE to renounce the decision,
and is now urging the PLC leadership for the Managua
municipality to convene primaries on March 10.

CSE STRIPS ALN FROM MONTEALEGRE
-------------------------------

5. (C) On the same day, the CSE delivered a second and more
serious blow the democratic opposition when it voted to strip
the presidency of the ALN from Eduardo Montealegre and return
it and legal authority over the party and its assets to rival
(and Aleman confidante) Eliseo Nunez Sr. Nunez, the original
founder of the ALN and its predecessor the Movement for
Liberal Salvation (MSL), has long opposed Montealegre's
leadership and had appealed to the CSE to overturn the
decision April 2006 ALN convention that elected Montealegre
president.

6. (C) ALN officials believed that the issue had been settled
earlier this year. They received a preliminary finding late
in 2007 from the CSE upholding Montealegre's election and
multiple communications from the CSE formally recognizing
Montealegre as ALN president. On February 20, however, in a
surprise move, the CSE issued a new ruling that the executive
committee at the time of the April 2006 convention did not
have the authority to merge the MSL and Montealegre's
organization, Vamos con Eduardo, into the ALN and thereby
nullified Montealegre's election. It also determined that
there were a large number of "irregularities and
deficiencies" in the ALN's statutes that need to be resolved,
including the election of several new municipal and
departmental level structures, notably those in Matagalpa.

7. (C) The CSE decision will also affect the upcoming process
to form new Municipal and Departmental Electoral Commissions
(CEMs and CEDs), for the purpose of conducting the municipal
elections. Electoral regulations award seats on the CEMs and
CEDs to the two top vote winners from the previous election.
For the November 2008 elections, that would mean the FSLN and
ALN get to split the seats to the exclusion of the PLC. The
CSE decision will mean that the ALN under Nunez gets to form
the commissions. However, as most members of the ALN are
expected to defect the organization (see below), the ALN will
not have sufficient members to staff the commissions.
Conveniently, in a February 20 press conference, Aleman
offered to "help" Nunez with activists from the PLC to help
form the commissions. In effect, the PLC will be able to
retain its seats on the commissions and continue to control
vote counting and election results with the FSLN.


NEXT STEPS - VAMOS CON EDUARDO AND PLI
--------------------------------------

8. (C) In a later conversation with us, Montealegre told us
the "ALN is dead." They have switched to calling their
organization "Vamos con Eduardo" and have begun re-painting
party headquarters signs in Managua and other municipalities
with the new name. The movement will run under the
Independent Liberal Party (PLI) in the local elections and
PLI president and National Assembly Deputy Indalecio
Rodriguez publicly appeared with Montealegre in a series of
press events to offer full backing to Montealegre and all
ex-members of the ALN. Montealegre noted that they
immediately began receiving calls from party members
renouncing their membership in the ALN and requesting to
become formal members of PLI. Montealegre suggested that
they had been prepared for this to happen, though the timing
was terrible, and most of their activist members and
sympathizers would have little difficulty making the switch
from ALN to PLI. "They will see the ALN for what it now is -
an arm of the Pacto."

9. (C) The more difficult question facing Montealegre is
whether to proceed with his run for Mayor of Managua. In a
late meeting with party organizers and PLC dissident Enrique
Quinonez, opinions appeared to be evenly split. Some are
urging Montealegre to withdraw from the race, citing the
clear intention of the FSLN and PLC to prevent him having a
chance to win and instead urging Montealegre to remain a
National Assembly Deputy and re-organize Vamos Con Eduardo
and PLI. They fear the political damage of an electoral loss
would be too great for Montealegre to sustain his political
career. Others, including Quinonez, want Montealegre to push
back, announce his formal candidacy for Mayor, and call the
CSE moves for what the are - a failed effort by the Pacto to
eliminate him. They believe he has not made the case yet for
being a political martyr and that his early withdrawal from
the race would doom his political career. Montealegre had
not made a decision either way and will use the coming
weekend for further consultations with party leaders and
activists to determine a way forward.


COMMENT
-------

10. (C) The decisions by the CSE provide further evidence
that the Pacto between Aleman and Ortega is alive and well
and has no intention of letting Montealegre and a united
opposition gain a foothold in the November municipal
elections that could damage the power sharing agreement. The
decisions render the ALN-PLC agreement essentially
meaningless and will ensure that, to a large extent, the
Liberal forces remain divided. The advanced calendar will
facilitate Aleman's efforts to keep tight control over the
PLC structure and select candidates at the local level
beholden personally to him alone. Moreover, the PLC and FSLN
will continue their control over the electoral commissions,
reducing the likelihood that the elections will be free and
fair. The anti-Pacto Liberal movement will continue, despite
the setbacks created by these decisions, and over the
long-term may be able to build a better political
organization from a stronger position without the internal
divisions and legal problems. However, their task to gain
seats in the municipal elections has become much more
difficult and they will have little resources on hand to
initiate the rebuilding effort.
SANDERS

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