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Cablegate: National Assembly Adjourns After Election Fraud

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1505/01 3531417
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 181417Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3534
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001505

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, NSC FOR FISK AND GARCIA, STATE PASS USOAS
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ADJOURNS AFTER ELECTION FRAUD
LEADS TO POLITICAL IMPASSE

REF: MANAGUA 1240

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

1. (C) Summary: In the wake of the fraudulent November 9
municipal elections, the National Assembly concluded its
legislative year on December 15 at an impasse as both the
governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the
united opposition parties were unable to gather a quorum to
promote their competing political agendas. Through
parliamentary maneuvers, the opposition had placed
legislation on the Assembly's agenda to annul the recent
municipal elections, but lacked the required votes to move
the legislation to committee and ultimately to a floor vote.
The FSLN, likewise, on two separate occasions failed to
garner sufficient votes for a quorum to allow for the removal
of the legislation from the agenda, which would be an
indirect endorsement of the election results. While not a
complete victory for the opposition, this stalemate has
thrown a wrench into the FSLN's plans to simply endorse the
election results and move ahead with the President's
legislative agenda, including constitutional reform. The
legislative deadlock also affected other pending economic
legislation ranging from the approval of the 2009 national
budget to votes accepting the terms of several international
assistance loans. The inability of the opposition to convene
a quorum also hints at strains on the internal power dynamics
of the main opposition party. While the Assembly did
eventually conclude its annual session on December 15,
negotiations to find a resolution to the political impasse
surely will continue into the legislative recess. End
Summary.

-------------------------------------------
The Legislation That Paralyzed the Assembly
-------------------------------------------

2. (C) On November 16, deputies from the Liberal
Constitutional Party (PLC) and the Nicaraguan Democratic Bloc
(BDN, those aligned with Eduardo Montealegre's political
movement Vamos con Eduardo) introduced legislation in the
National Assembly to annul the results of the November 9
municipal elections. The draft law also called for new
elections 45 days after the legislation became law and
required the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to accredit
observers for the new elections. The draft law raised many
questions about separation of powers. The CSE is an
independent branch of government, and the FSLN-dominated
Supreme Court already had indicated it would find such a
legislative action unconstitutional. For this reason many
Nicaraguans doubted the legislation would ever take effect.
However, as Deputy Javier Vallejos (BDN) (a key opposition
official on the Assembly's executive committee) told PolOff,
the objective was to raise an obstacle to the FSLN's attempt
to legitimize the municipal elections. The opposition's
difficulty, however, was its inability to find enough
deputies to support the legislation.

3. (C) Both the opposition parties and the governing FSLN
sought to demonstrate their dominance of the Assembly by
competing to be the first to gather the necessary 47 deputies
for a quorum to support their respective positions. For the
opposition this meant moving the election nullification
legislation to committee and ultimately to a floor vote. For
the FSLN this meant convening a quorum that would act on a
pre-set legislative agenda that did not include the draft law
and thereby implicitly endorsed the election results. On
December 4 the opposition parties tried to convene a quorum
and refer the legislation to committee, but were only able to
gather 44 deputies. These included deputies from the
following parties: 25 from the PLC, 15 from the BDN, three
from the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), and one
independent. On December 9, the FSLN tried to convene a
quorum to push through its agenda, but only gathered 45
deputies, which included: 38 from the FSLN, five from the
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), and two independents. On
December 15, the FSLN tried a second time to convene a
quorum, but to the surprise of nearly all observers, it
failed. It fared worse than the week before as it gathered
only 41 deputies, losing ALN deputies that had been present
during the FSLN's December 9 effort.

-----------------------
What the Deadlock Means

MANAGUA 00001505 002 OF 003


-----------------------

4. (C) The legislation to annul the elections paralyzed the
Assembly. With neither the opposition nor the governing FSLN
able to gather the required 47 deputies to convene a quorum,
other matters pending before the National Assembly also
stalled. This included the approval of the 2009 national
budget, the approval of a series of international development
loans for Nicaragua, the confirmation of central bank
appointees, and the extension of voter identification cards
that expire December 31, 2008, but that are needed by voters
in the Atlantic coast for local elections that are scheduled
for January 18, 2009.

5. (C) The legislative deadlock also signifies that the FSLN
will need to pursue constitutional reform on a different
timeline. Prior to the November municipal elections,
deputies from all parties understood that the FSLN would
attempt to pass constitutional reform once before the end of
2008 (reftel). (Constitutional amendments must be passed in
two consecutive legislative sessions.) Given the widespread
anger with the fraudulent municipal elections, the FSLN found
itself in a difficult position to find the necessary 56 votes
to pass any constitutional reform this year. The FSLN has
publicly stated its intention to seek the reforms during the
2009-2010 legislative period (which is composed of two
sessions). In a press interview, Supreme Court Magistrate
and confident to President Ortega Rafael Solis stated that
there was still time to pass the constitutional reforms prior
to the 2011 national elections. (A key element to the
constitutional reform is the provision permitting consecutive
re-election of the president, which would allow Ortega to run
in 2011.)

6. (C) While the National Assembly concluded this year's
session on December 15 and will not reconvene until January
9, 2009, both the opposition parties and the FSLN will
continue to seek the coveted 47th deputy. Deputy Agustin
Jarquin, of the Christian Democratic Union that is aligned
with the FSLN in the Assembly, told us that parliamentary
rules allowed for the legislature to convene a special
session during a recess. Aside from furthering their current
political agendas, both sides will seek 47 votes to support
their candidates for the new executive committee (Junta
Directiva) of the Assembly that must be elected upon the
legislature's return on January 9, 2009. As usual, the
executive committee will be instrumental in setting the
legislative agenda.

7. (C) The paralysis of the Assembly and the unresolved
election fraud have Nicaraguans guessing what role Arnoldo
Aleman, the informal leader of the PLC, will play in
resolving the current political crisis. During past
political deadlocks, Aleman has negotiated directly with
Ortega to reach a compromise. However, several contacts
close to Aleman have asserted that Aleman is feeling
pressured from various fronts but has refused to deal
directly with Ortega thus far. Given the massive election
fraud, Aleman might fear a public backlash if he were to
negotiate with the FSLN. On the other hand, Aleman might
also fear that fully supporting the opposition's challenge of
the municipal elections would strengthen the
increasingly-held perception of Eduardo Montealegre as the
leader of the opposition and further marginalize Aleman from
the political scene.

-------
Comment
-------

8. (C) While legislation to annul the fraudulent municipal
elections was seen as a long shot, it served as a message by
a unified opposition to the FSLN that at least one state
institution was willing to challenge the government. It also
has been promising to see the opposition parties working
together - the PLC, the BDN, and the MRS. The opposition's
collaboration thus far has fallen short of garnering the
necessary votes to move the legislation forward, but perhaps
more importantly has thwarted the FSLN's legislative agenda
and timeline on constitutional reform. We note that the
legislative deadlock also has prevented the Assembly's
approval of the GON's 2009 budget. For the moment this has
worked in favor of the opposition by increasing the pressure
on Ortega with respect to international assistance
disbursements, including from the IMF and the World Bank.

MANAGUA 00001505 003 OF 003


However, if it persists, the lack of an approved budget could
very quickly be turned to a liability for the opposition if
the GON-controlled media successfully place the blame for
mounting donor assistance cuts on the opposition.

9. (C) This political impasse also hints at the strains
within the PLC's internal party dynamics. With the
opposition unable to garner a simple majority of 47 deputies
to support its legislation, members from various parties have
questioned Aleman's position as the leader of the opposition.
Similarly, questions linger as to the sustainability of
Montealegre's efforts as the leader of the unified opposition.
CALLAHAN

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