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Cablegate: Nicaragua's Municipal Elections - How The

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001315

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STATE PASS USAID FOR LAC-CARDENAS
NSC FOR FISK/GARCIA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA'S MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS - HOW THE
OPPOSITION COULD WIN

REF: A. MANAGUA 1308
B. MANAGUA 1261

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan, reasons 1.4 (b, d)

1. (C) Summary. Despite growing political violence,
significant institutional hurdles, and an aggressive FSLN
campaign machine working against them, Nicaragua's democratic
opposition may well score several key victories in the
municipal election on November 9. Polls continue to point to
unusually high voter interest and intention to vote and
possible victories for candidates from the Constitutional
Liberal Party Alliance (PLC) in several large cities. The
opposition has put most of its support behind Eduardo
Montealegre's campaign for Mayor of Managua and polls
indicate a strong chance for his election. However, much
will depend on voter turnout and whether the Government's
campaign against NGOs (ref a) and the use of violence and
mobs to intimidate will keep the independent voters away on
election day. End Summary.

POLLS INDICATE COMPETITIVE ELECTION
-----------------------------------

2. (C) Public opinion polls issued over the last two weeks by
four institutions (the International Republican Institute
with Colombian firm DATEXCO, CID-Gallup, local polling firm
M&R Consultants, and a poll commissioned by the daily "El
Nuevo Diario" conducted by the University of Central America)
demonstrate an unusually high voter interest in the election
and point towards higher than average voter turnout, ranging
between 65 and 80 percent of eligible voters. Previous
municipal elections had turnouts of approximately 40 to 50
percent. A CID-Gallup analyst recently told the Ambassador
that in Managua, voter turnout of over 60 percent will
guarantee a win for Eduardo Montealegre. The potential for
turnout to decide the race is probably also true in several
other closely contested cities, such as Chinandega, Leon and
Granada. In these larger municipalities, analysts suggest,
the opposition's effort to convert the elections into a
referendum on Ortega's administration has drawn attention and
support, though it may have energized Ortega's FSLN base as
well.

3. (C) In Managua, the polls vary with some showing as much
as an eleven percent lead for Montealegre over FSLN candidate
Alexis Arguello (52 to 41) with others showing the race
nearly even (36 to 32 and 32 to 37). In Granada, a city
historically associated with the de-registered Conservative
Party and currently run by the FSLN, the PLC candidate is
favored over the FSLN 46 to 30 percent. In Leon, a long-time
bastion of the FSLN, the FSLN leads the PLC with 50 to 35.
In Chinandega, another FSLN stronghold in the northern
Pacific region, the PLC is leading 41 percent to 32 percent
for the FSLN. In Masaya, another traditional stronghold for
the FSLN, the PLC and FSLN are nearly even with 42 percent
and 38 percent respectively. In all cities, voter turnout
will be critical, especially among independent voters and
voters that were associated with the de-registered Sandinista
Renovation Movement (MRS).


ALL EYES ON MANAGUA
-------------------

4. (C) The Liberals have staked the bulk of their efforts on
winning Managua with former presidential candidate Eduardo
Montealegre and PLC National Assembly Deputy Enrique
Quinonez. Montealegre's campaign manager, Roberto Serrano,
told us that initially the campaign struggled to attract
financial support and has continued to battle for resources
within the PLC Alliance with the PLC leadership beholden to
former President Arnoldo Aleman. However, as the polls began
to demonstrate a greater opportunity for success, donations
increased. The major Nicaraguan private sector donors,
however, have stayed away. Montealegre consequently has been
forced to run a low-tech campaign, with twice-daily walking
visits to neighborhoods and door-to-door campaigning. This,
he suggests, has probably been a key factor in Montealegre's
rise in the polls.

5. (C) Following the public release of the CID-Gallup poll,

MANAGUA 00001315 002 OF 003


indicating that as many as 30 percent of voters remain
undecided (or were unwilling to reveal for whom they intend
to vote), Serrano said the campaign was expanding its efforts
to mobilize voters on election day, doubling the number of
posters and banners across town, and planned to make greater
use of its new slogan "Todos Contra Ortega" (Everyone Against
Ortega) printed in the red, green and orange colors of the
PLC, the Conservatives and the MRS. The campaign will not
focus on Arguello, who retains high personal popularity given
his championship boxing career, and instead will keep the
attention concentrated on uniting the anti-Ortega vote.


A HELPING HAND FROM THE MRS AND ALN
-----------------------------------

6. (C) Following the ref b decision by the MRS to urge their
sympathizers to vote for the local anti-Ortega candidate, MRS
leader Edmundo Jarquin traveled to key cities, including
Chinandega, Leon and Masaya, to endorse the PLC Alliance
candidates (all of whom come from Montealegre's movement).
Similarly, the former local mayoral candidates from the MRS
also offered their endorsements of the PLC candidates.
Serrano and other analysts believe these critical
endorsements, especially in the larger Pacific municipalities
where the MRS has an active and organized following, will
help increase turnout, and thus votes for the PLC, on
election day. On October 26, the MRS formally endorsd
Montealegre and the "Todos Contra Ortega" movement. MRS
leader and former guerrilla Dora Maria Tellez said it was
necessary to support Montealegre in order "to fight against
the Ortega dictatorship." One campaign manager told us the
endorsement was better than expected, as it involved more
than just Jarquin's personal endorsement, and should add
several more points to his lead in the polls, hopefully
putting him beyond the range of vote fraud.

7. (C) Like rats jumping from a sinking ship, dozens of
municipal candidates from the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance
(ALN) have been renouncing their candidacies and endorsing
the local PLC alliance candidates. Earlier this year, the
leadership of the ALN was stripped from Montealegre, forcing
him to run in alliance with the PLC, and the ALN was handed
over to Eliseo Nunez, who is widely believed to be working in
concert with the FSLN and Ortega personally to split the
Liberal vote. The UCA poll indicates that the ALN party is a
distant third force, with support ranging from 5 to 15
percent of the electorate. The renunciations and
endorsements, however, could serve to help minimize the
chances of splitting the Liberal vote in key municipalities.


DEFENDING THE VOTE
------------------

8. (C) With the public opinion polls showing close races,
victory will depend on turning out and defending the vote.
The Ortega Administration is working steadily to undermine
opportunities to do either. The ongoing crackdown on NGOs
(ref b), especially those on the democratic left and those
involving youth, is likely to inhibit the NGO's ability to
mobilize voters effectively by tying them up in legal cases
and interfering with their ability to conduct financial
transactions or hold public events. Sofia Montenegro, leader
of the Women's Autonomous Movement, believes that the
crackdown may actually serve to help mobilize voters by
helping to make clear the extent to which democracy and basic
freedoms are under threat and to solidify the anti-Ortega
vote. In their attacks on NGOs, she said, "they reached too
far ... and they will regret it."

9. (C) Campaign team officials, human rights observers and
political analysts over the past several weeks have all
expressed their concern that the GON will stage disturbances
on the day before the elections, probably using the Citizen
Power Councils (CPCs) in order to instill fear and intimidate
potential voters to stay home on Monday. Similarly,
organizers from the domestic observer group Etica y
Trasnparencia (EyT) expect the CPCs to be present in front of
at least some polling stations on election day. According to
EyT, the presence of CPCs, combined with a new rule that puts
three "electoral police" (personnel temporarily recruited to

MANAGUA 00001315 003 OF 003


maintain order and manage traffic flow) at each polling
station could suppress voter turnout.

10. (C) In the absence of Liberals from most of the Municipal
and Departmental Electoral Commissions (CEMs and CEDs), where
the votes are counted and, given the likelihood that the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) will not accredit domestic
observer groups, the Liberals will have to rely on party
election observers (fiscales) to monitor the voting and
counting process. Montealegre's campaign believes it has
sufficient observers trained and the resources dedicated to
be able to monitor the vote in Managua, though much less so
in other municipalities. However, Montealegre's campaign
remains concerned that the lack of transparency within the
Electoral Commissions could enable the FSLN to steal the
election and is developing a plan for the night of the
election and the days afterward to demonstrate popular
support and maintain pressure on the CSE.

COMMENT
-------

11. (C) Montealegre and the other pro-democratic candidates
face significant challenges in their campaigns. The Ortega
Government continues to use state resources and its control
over several key televisions and radio media outlets to mount
an aggressive negative campaign against Montealegre.
Recurring incidents of political violence and the
omnipresence of the CPCs have made voters nervous, though
they remain engaged. At the same time, these very tactics
are probably opening the window of opportunity further for
the pro-democratic candidates to make their case that every
vote is needed to defend Nicaragua's democracy, that a voter
for the PLC Alliance is a vote to bring about real change for
the average citizen, and for "everyone to vote against
Ortega." If Montealegre can win in Managua and the Liberals
can pick up a few of the other large municipalities,
especially symbolic victories in FSLN territory such as Leon
and Chinandega, they will have scored a significant victory.

CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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