Cablegate: Nicaragua Elections Update


DE RUEHMU #1839/01 2342152
P 222152Z AUG 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001839




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2016



Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: With only two an a half months left before
the Nicaraguan national elections on November 5, the Liberals
remain divided and the Sandinista dissidents are running low
on funds. Five parties continue to contest the elections
with the following candidates: Daniel Ortega (Sandinista
Front - FSLN); Eduardo Montealegre (Nicaraguan Liberal
Alliance - ALN); Jose Rizo (Liberal Constitutional Party -
PLC); Edmundo Jarquin (Sandinista Renovation Movement - MRS);
and Eden Pastora (Alternative for Change - AC). Recent polls
show Ortega in the lead with Montealegre close behind (with
about 25-29 percent), followed by Rizo and Jarquin (14-19
percent), with Pastora trailing at 1-2 percent. If
Montealegre can force Ortega into a runoff, polls indicate
that he would defeat the FSLN candidate. End Summary.

Elections Background
- - - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) Since the inception of democratic rule in Nicaragua in
1990, political power has been contested between two majority
forces: the Liberals on the right, and the Sandinistas on the
left. The civil war and economic mismanagement in the 1980s,
and the Sandinista giveaway of government property to party
leaders in 1990 (the "pinata"), turned a significant majority
of the population against the Sandinista Front (FSLN),
preventing the FSLN from winning national elections.
Recognizing demographic realities, the Sandinistas since 1990
have methodically promoted divisions on the right and worked
to maximize their voting strength by building a large and
disciplined party structure.

3. (U) Nicaragua's opposition forces came together under the
United National Opposition (UNO) to win the 1990 elections,
but soon splintered. The Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC),
a minor UNO partner, eventually emerged as the dominant
Liberal force, in large part due to the energetic and
charismatic leadership of party president Arnoldo Aleman.
The balance of UNO broke apart, with the political scene
populated by an alphabet soup of minor Liberal parties, the
traditional Conservative Party (PC) -- reduced to a small
minority except in a few strongholds -- the Nicaraguan
Resistance (PRN) formed by ex-Contra fighters, and parties
formed to represent the evangelical population, such as the
Nicaraguan Christian Path Party (CCN), and the Christian
Alternative (AC).

4. (U) Discontent has also grown within the FSLN after the
1990 "pinata" of FSLN leader Daniel Ortega and Ortega's
continued electoral defeats during that decade. Indeed, some
elements broke away from the FSLN during the 1990s, most
notably the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) under the
leadership of revolutionary activist Dora Maria Tellez. The
FSLN was, however, able to maintain its core using threats,
coercion and discipline. Despite repeated defeats, Ortega
pledged to "rule from below" using residual Sandinista
influence in governmental institutions such as the police,
armed forces, and the court system.

5. (SBU) The PLC and Arnoldo Aleman emerged victorious in the
1996 national elections, but were unable to gain a
supermajority (56 votes) in the National Assembly, which
would have allowed the party to name Supreme Electoral
Council (CSE) and Supreme Court (CSJ) magistrates without
Sandinista votes. This balance led to a political "pact"
between the PLC and FSLN to divide control of the
institutions of government between the two parties, an
arrangement which has continued to the present. Hence,
virtually all employees of governmental institutions that are
controlled by appointments by the National Assembly are
affiliated with the PLC or FSLN and serve the interests of
those parties.

6. (U) Before the 2001 election, the PLC was able to corral
most of the smaller democratic parties into an alliance.
Aleman personally selected Enrique Bolanos as the alliance's
presidential candidate as well as many of the National
Assembly and Central American Parliament deputy candidates.
This process is known as the "dedazo" ("finger" or
hand-picking). Bolanos won the election and instituted an
anti-corruption campaign.

7. (SBU) In 2003, Aleman, who stole tens of millions of
dollars from state coffers, was convicted of fraud and money
laundering, stripped of his parliamentary immunity (which he
enjoyed as an ex-President) and sentenced to 20 years in
prison. This process caused a great upheaval in the Liberal
ranks. When the dust settled, a small number of Liberal and
Conservative deputies broke from the PLC alliance to form a
new political caucus to support Bolanos, but the vast
majority remained loyal to Aleman (owing their power to
Aleman's dedazo) and condemned the President as a traitor.
The Conservatives and Liberals, unhappy with Aleman's
continued influence in the PLC, formed the Alliance for the
Republic (APRE), a party loyal to and supported by the
Bolanos administration.

8. (U) Aleman and Ortega manipulated the pact and Sandinista
control of the judiciary to allow greater degrees of freedom
for Aleman (he began his sentence in a prison cell, was moved
to a hospital, then to house arrest, and now is allowed to
move freely about Managua under "medical parole") in exchange
for concessions to the FSLN in the CSE and CSJ. (Comment:
The pact has provided obvious benefits to Aleman and Ortega
but alienated Liberals and Sandinistas disgusted with their
leaders' concessions to the enemy and anti-democratic and
corrupt manipulation of the powers of state. End Comment.)
The pact has consistently attacked and undermined the Bolanos
administration, at times threatening the stability of the

9. (U) As part of the pact agreements, Aleman supported a
change in the Electoral Law that allows the front-running
candidate to win the election in the first round with 40
percent of the vote or 35 percent with a five percent lead
over the next most popular contender. This modification
clearly favors the FSLN's Ortega, whose electoral support
since the country's return to democracy has averaged about 40

10. (U) Having won comfortable majorities since 1990, the
Liberals lost badly in the 2004 municipal elections. The
Sandinistas won 88 of 152 municipalities, the PLC 58, APRE
five, and the PRN one. The Sandinistas claimed victory with
a plurality of the vote in most of their 88 municipalities,
with the PLC, APRE and other minor parties dividing the
anti-Sandinista vote. The abstention rate was also slightly
higher than normal, which many people blamed on the voters'
unhappiness with the pact.

The 2006 Elections
- - - - - - - - - -

11. (U) Three candidates emerged in 2005 to challenge the
Aleman-Ortega pact. Excluded from the majority parties by
the two caudillos, Sandinista dissident Herty Lewites broke
from the FSLN to head the MRS ticket, and Liberal dissident
Eduardo Montealegre formed the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance
(ALN) composed of PLC dissidents, the PC, PRN, and other
small democratic parties. PLC outcast and prominent Bolanos
Administration official Jose Antonio Alvarado won the APRE
party nomination. Daniel Ortega was once again the
pre-ordained candidate of the FSLN, and Bolanos' vice
president Jose Rizo was chosen as the PLC candidate in April

12. (SBU) The CSE deadline to register party candidates at
the end of May 2006 drove both a consolidation and division
amongst the political parties. The Christian Alternative
(AC) party left Lewites' alliance, changed its name to
Alternative for Change (same initials) and chose the erratic
Eden Pastora as its presidential candidate. Jose Antonio
Alvarado became Jose Rizo's running mate in the PLC, but APRE
joined the ALN. Arnoldo Aleman again imposed several
unpopular PLC deputy candidates by dedazo, causing Jose Rizo
to threaten to resign his candidacy (he backed down).

13. (U) The political upheaval did not end in May -- MRS
candidate Lewites died from heart complications in early
July. Lewites' running mate Edmundo Jarquin assumed the
candidacy and MRS leadership convinced popular Sandinista
revolutionary songwriter Carlos Mejia Godoy to accept the
vice presidential nomination. Post-Lewites polls indicate
that Jarquin has been able to prevent the bulk of MRS
supporters from defecting to the ALN or FSLN by capturing
public approval and promoting the continuation of Lewites'
ideals. The Liberals have continued their constant
infighting, resulting in an ongoing shift of Liberal
politicians back and forth between the PLC and ALN, depending
on their calculation of personal benefit, although most of
the defectors have left the PLC for the ALN.

Recent Polls
- - - - - - -

14. (U) A Borge y Asociados poll released on August 3 showed
the following results for the candidates and their parties:

Candidate Party
--------- -----

Ortega: 31.4% FSLN: 33.4%
Montealegre: 29.1% ALN: 23.0%
Rizo: 15.7% PLC: 17.3%
Jarquin: 15.2% MRS: 13.6%
Pastora: 1.1% AC: 0.7%
None: 7.6%

This poll was financed by the ALN and has been criticized by
the PLC and FSLN for asking "leading questions" about how
respondents felt about the PLC-FSLN pact.

15. (SBU) A M&R poll released on August 20 presented the
following figures:


Ortega: 32.1%
Montealegre: 25%
Rizo: 13.7%
Jarquin: 19.9%
Pastora: 1.3%
None: 8.0%

The M&R poll also projected the percentage of votes the
candidates would receive if the 8 percent of undecided voters
abstained. The projection showed: Ortega (34.9%),
Montealegre (27.2%), Jarquin (21.6%), Rizo (14.9%), Pastora
(1.4%). "La Prensa" sensationalized this projection by
announcing that Ortega was 0.1% away from winning the
election in the first round. Analysts and candidates agreed,
however, that the undecided voters would not likely abstain
en masse.

16. (C) A private Borge y Asociados poll commissioned by IRI
and passed to emboffs on August 21 had the following results:

Candidate Party
--------- -----

Ortega: 27.5% FSLN: 30.0%
Montealegre: 24.8% ALN: 21.6%
Rizo: 18.6% PLC: 20.5%
Jarquin: 17.1% MRS: 17.9%
Pastora: 1.0%
None: 11.1%

17. (SBU) Although Ortega consistently leads in the recent
polls, 60-65 percent of Nicaraguans hold very unfavorable
opinions of him, according to surveys. Montealegre is
consistently chosen as the second-choice candidate of Rizo
and Jarquin supporters, and would easily defeat Ortega in a
second round. Rizo and Jarquin would also gain extra votes
in a second round, but not as many as Montealegre, and their
ability to defeat Ortega is less assured.

Current Status of the Four Major Candidates
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

18. (C) ORTEGA: The FSLN is clearly by far the most
organized, disciplined, and best financed party. Flashy FSLN
propaganda promoting the party, Ortega, and Vice Presidential
candidate Jaime Morales is evident nationwide, but especially
in Managua, which is blanketed with pastel billboards
promising "peace and reconciliation," "an end to hunger," and
"unity and progress." Ortega has pursued a strategy of
"unity" by choosing a Liberal running mate, and rapprochement
with the Catholic Church via Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo,
the retired Archbishop of Managua. He has even sent
emissaries to promise us that the FSLN will not rock the
macroeconomic boat if Ortega is elected and that the party
would like to have friendly relations with "everyone,"
including the USG (Ref A). Ortega was widely criticized for
his July 19 "Anniversary of the Revolution" speech when he
appeared before the crowd wearing a Nicaraguan flag as a cape
and promised widespread subsidies to producers and a "mixed

19. (C) MONTEALEGRE: The ALN is slowly pulling together its
disparate parts to conduct a unified campaign (with the help
of more than a dozen foreign advisors). Montealegre has been
forced to defend himself against trumped-up PLC charges that
he illegally benefited from the 2000-2002 banking crisis --
charges that even Jarquin and Pastora agree are unfounded.
He recently toured the country in an effort to gain support
and change his image as the candidate of the wealthy
oligarchy. Nevertheless, ALN contacts continue to report
problems of voter perceptions of Montealegre's "arrogant and
distant" personality. With few exceptions, the ALN has not
yet received the level of support it expected from the
Nicaraguan private sector, although the party has been more
successful with foreign donors. ALN deputy candidates
complain that Montealegre is spending virtually all of the
money on the national campaign while leaving them to their
own devices.

20. (C) RIZO: Once the premier political force in Nicaragua,
the PLC has been weakened by internal divisions and an
unmotivated party base. Several local PLC leaders have
confided to us that they are unhappy with the deputy
candidate lists imposed by Aleman. A determined group of
northern PLC mayors has started a movement to force Aleman
from the party. Aleman once promised to distance himself
from the campaign, but he and his wife consistently attend
Central Committee strategy meetings. The recent issuance of
a Panamanian arrest warrant for Aleman and some of his
relatives dealt a further blow to party morale. Contacts
report that Jose Antonio Alvarado has privately criticized
Rizo and campaign manager Enrique Quinonez for incompetent
management of the PLC campaign. While Rizo is struggling to
energize his supporters, he remains stubbornly resistant to
ALN overtures inviting him to leave the PLC, claiming that
Montealegre should join with the PLC under his leadership.

21. (C) JARQUIN: Jarquin and the MRS seemed to have weathered
the death of Lewites by emphasizing Lewites' legacy and
taking advantage of sympathy for the former mayor of Managua
and frustration with the FSLN. Jarquin recently made a
tactical mistake, however, by expressing his support for
legalizing elective abortions, a procedure opposed by a large
majority of Nicaraguans and the Catholic Church, which
publicly denounced his position (the other candidates quickly
announced their opposition). Contacts report that several
sources of funding brought to the MRS by Lewites (from Jewish
communities in Panama and Europe, for example) have run dry.
Jarquin himself admits that the MRS receives minimal support
from the Nicaraguan private sector, and the party has been
forced to essentially cut off local candidates in
lower-priority departments -- basically everywhere but the
Pacific region, which contains the majority of MRS
supporters. Jarquin realizes that his chances of winning the
presidential election are remote, but he is committed to
winning a significant number of seats for the MRS in the
National Assembly and working with the ALN to reform
government institutions (Ref B).

Comment: Can Ortega Win in the First Round?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

22. (C) The persistent split and infighting in the Liberal
ranks has benefited Ortega and could conceivably hand him a
first-round victory -- although we do not judge such an
outcome likely. Montealegre has always claimed that Rizo
will join forces with him once he realizes that his candidacy
is hopeless, but the ALN's disorganization, financial
difficulties, and Montealegre's own foibles have prevented
him from dominating Rizo in the polls as quickly as he
planned. Nevertheless, the polls consistently demonstrate
that Montealegre is the only serious challenger to Ortega.
The "conventional wisdom" is that Rizo will jump to the ALN
sometime in September and take enough anti-Arnoldo PLC
supporters with him to push Montealegre to a first-round win,
or at least guarantee a runoff with Ortega. At this point,
however, Rizo has not arrived at the same conclusion.
Further negative poll results (for Rizo) and pressure from
various interlocutors could possibly prompt a Rizo defection
before the CSE prints the electoral ballots in early October.

© Scoop Media

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