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Cablegate: Nicaragua's Two Caudillos Move Further Towards

VZCZCXRO1496
OO RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0706/01 1562337
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 042337Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2698
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC 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 000706

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, DRL
NSC FOR FISK, ALVARADO
STATE PASS USAID FOR CARDENAS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/03/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA'S TWO CAUDILLOS MOVE FURTHER TOWARDS
TWO-PARTY RULE

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, Reasons, 1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)
has initiated proceedings to revoke the legal registration of
two minority national democratic parties, the leftist
Movement for Sandinista Renovation (MRS) and the center-right
Conservative Party (PC). These two parties, representing
between 10 and 20 percent of the electorate, would be the
only two significant alternatives to the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN) and Constitutional Liberal Party
(PLC) on the November municipal elections ballot; the loss of
registration will prevent their participation. The MRS, in
particular, has experienced growing organizational strength
and rising poll numbers in the recent months and has the
potential to make inroads at the FSLN's expense. The CSE's
move lacks sound legal footing and appears orchestrated by
President Daniel Ortega and PLC leader Arnoldo Aleman (who
control the magistrates on the CSE) to eliminate potential
electoral alternatives to their two parties, further narrow
democratic space, and set the stage for their power-sharing
arrangement, the Pacto, to continue unchecked in the
post-election period. END SUMMARY.

REVOKING REGISTRATION
---------------------

2. (C) PLC Deputy and First Deputy President of the National
Assembly, Wilfredo Navarro (Aleman's most obsequiously loyal
congressional henchman) sent a letter in mid-May to the CSE
requesting an investigation into the PC's compliance with the
Electoral Law, as well as that of two smaller Atlantic Coast
parties -- PAMUC and PIM. Navarro has subsequently denied
responsibility for the letter, unconvincingly claiming it was
inspired by disgruntled PC Deputies in the National Assembly
who have been engaged in a public fight with PC President
Azalia Aviles over the decision by the PC to run
independently in the local elections. PC Deputies have told
us Navarro's assertions are nonsense and represent part of a
continued effort by Aleman's cronies to create problems in
the alliance between the PLC and the "Vamos con Eduardo"
movement of former Presidential candidate and current Managua
mayoral candidate Eduardo Montealegre. In a suspicious
display of bi-partisanship, the FSLN made a similar appeal to
the CSE to investigate the MRS.

3. (C) The Electoral Law, modified several years ago as part
of the Pacto arrangement by Aleman and Ortega, requires a
party to register candidates in 80 percent of the country's
153 municipalities as well as for 80 percent of the seats
open for election, including mayor, vice-mayor and 18 council
seats in each municipality. The law also establishes
stringent conditions for parties to establish legal
representation at the municipal, departmental and national
levels, including legal proof establishing these
representations filed with and certified by the CSE. The
CSE, a fourth branch of the government independent of the
National Assembly or the Courts, is split between the FSLN
and PLC, with all the magistrates beholden personally to
Ortega and Aleman respectively for their positions. If a
party fails to comply with these requirements, the CSE has
the authority to revoke the party's "personeria juridica"
(legal personhood/registration), thereby prohibiting the
party from participating in elections or even using the party
name and insignia.

PC AND MRS PUSH BACK, BUT DOUBTFUL OF SUCCESS
---------------------------------------------

4. (C) Former PC Deputy and current national campaign manager
Alejandro Bolanos told us that the party has submitted a
series of documents to the CSE, including an analysis
prepared by a leading Sandinista-affiliated NGO, that
demonstrate that the PC has more than complied with the
requirements of the electoral law. Bolanos reported they
have fielded candidates in 89 percent of all municipalities,
if you include those in the Atlantic North where elections
have been suspended. If those municipalities are discounted,
they enjoy representation in 93 percent. Similarly, they
have well over 85 percent representation of the seats up for
election, though not all of the candidates are seriously
competing. Bolanos lamented that the CSE-ordered, hastily

MANAGUA 00000706 002 OF 003


advanced electoral calendar completely disrupted the PC's
efforts to build a more comprehensive national slate, and
forced the party to scramble for candidates to fill the slots
needed and to comply with the requirements.

5. (C) Bolanos estimates that the PC can realistically
compete in about 30 municipalities with a serious shot at
winning at least 10 mayorships as well as many more council
seats. However, the campaign is hindered by the lack of
funds (many of the PC's financial backers have sided with the
PC deputies who opposed running as an independent party) and
a lack of certainty and enthusiasm among activists caused by
the registration issue. He expects that the CSE will drag
out the final decision on registration in order to further
dampen activism, before eventually issuing an edict to revoke
the party's registration in mid-summer. "They will drag this
out to defeat us psychologically."

6. (C) MRS Deputy Victor Hugo Tinoco echoed the assessment of
Bolanos, noting that while the MRS also had registered in
over 90 percent of the municipalities, the advanced electoral
calendar created significant problems for organizing the
party in every municipality. Tinoco suggested that while the
party is still "young," it is much stronger today than two
years ago, which is precisely why the FSLN wants to "take
them out of the game." Even though their list of candidates
had already been certified, the CSE is now going over every
document to find an "excuse" to de-register the party.
Tinoco called the process "arbitrary" and believes the MRS
has to fight back forcefully if it wants to avoid permanent
elimination.

ELIMINATING ALTERNATIVES
------------------------

7. (C) Bolanos commented that the damage of the loss of party
registration for the PC would be severe and lasting. In key
municipalities, such as Granada and the surrounding area,
de-certification would hand the FSLN mayorships they would
have otherwise been unable to win. Moreover, Bolanos
suggested that it will be impossible for the PC (or the MRS)
to register a new party in less than four years, ensuring
that there will be no democratic alternative party to
challenge the PLC and the FSLN in the national elections in
2011. Tinoco was less pessimistic about the MRS's ability to
obtain a new registration, probably in part because the MRS
is a coalition of several groups, some of which could
conceivably serve as the basis for a new party. Nonetheless,
Tinoco agreed that the re-registration and re-organization
effort would drain vital resources and time away from efforts
to challenge the FSLN in 2011.

8. (C) PC and MRS leaders with whom we spoke expressed the
same view -- that the effort to revoke party registrations is
designed to eliminate all potential non-Pacto alternatives
for the voters in the municipal elections and beyond. Recent
polling indicates that 40 percent of likely voters are
independents, and at least 20 percent of FSLN voters are
unhappy with Ortega's anti-democratic tendencies. Similarly,
Aleman's power base rests with his control over the CSE, the
Supreme Court and other structures and not with the party
base. Both Ortega and Aleman would benefit from elimination
of electoral alternatives to their parties - driving the
growing number of independent voters back to their respective
parties -- or the abstention column. Tinoco believes the end
result will be a "two caudillo system" in which Aleman gets
his full freedom restored and Ortega ensures the perpetuation
of his power and hold on the presidency. NGO Etica y
Transparencia leader Roberto Courtney suggested to us that
Aleman and the PLC would probably benefit the most from this
arrangement, picking up many more votes and possibly altering
the balance of power within the Pacto.

9. (C) Aviles and former MRS presidential candidate Edmundo
Jarquin commented to us that, with the PC and the MRS
potentially out of the picture, the Pacto will then devote
all its attention to the "destruction" of Managua mayor
candidate Eduardo Montealegre. As the last remaining
alternative to the Pacto, Montealegre's political fortunes
"would be a matter of life or death for Aleman." Aviles and
Jarquin expect Montealegre to be forced out of the campaign

MANAGUA 00000706 003 OF 003


by August and to be replaced by an Aleman crony, possibly his
wife or daughter. Similarly, with Aleman and Ortega
controlling the entire vote counting mechanism, via their
grip on the CSE, Jarquin and Aviles noted that they will be
able to ensure that none of Montealegre's candidates within
the PLC-VCE alliance are elected. Reinforcing this view, the
Prosecutor General's office announced on June 2 that a
decision on a criminal case involving Montealegre's
involvement in the CENIS issue would be ready in late July.

COMMENT
-------

10. (C) It is still not clear at this point whether the CSE
will proceed with the elimination of the PC and MRS. Bolanos
is probably correct in his view that simply prolonging the
decision has much the same effect -- by dampening enthusiasm
and participation among activists, donors and candidates. A
long count may also serve to drive away more of the
independent voters from politics, increasing Aleman and
Ortega's share of the voting population. Regardless, the
threat of the elimination of the PC and MRS represents yet
another step by the Ortega government, with Aleman's active
support, to narrow democratic space, eliminate potential
challenges, and strengthen the absolute political control of
their rather unique parasitic symbiosis.


TRIVELLI

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