Nicaragua

Deputy candidates: the opposition’s taboo

Few dare to talk about it, many see it as a matter for “later”, almost all agree: “at some point we will talk about it”. The deputy candidates are a taboo subject within the main opposition platforms: the National Coalition and the Citizens’ Alliance.  

How will the candidates be chosen? It is a question that, six and a half months before the national elections, no opposition leader can answer with certainty. The Coalition is only certain that it does not want a “hand-picked” election, while the Citizens’ Alliance considers it “an unexplored issue”. 

In the elections scheduled for next November 7, the posts of 90 national and departmental representatives – and their alternates- at the National Assembly, and 20 seats in the Central American Parliament (Parlacén) would be at stake, in addition to the Presidency of the Republic. 

Leaders of the Coalition have pointed out that the procedure for the election of the deputies should not be different from that of the selection of the presidential candidate. However, this opposition platform is still discussing three possibilities to elect its presidential candidate.

The most mentioned proposal is a macro-survey, although “the sample universe must be defined, to be representative and not only applied to the members of the organizations (of the Coalition), but to the citizens in general”, according to what Alexa Zamora, member of the Political Council of the National Unity, told CONFIDENCIAL.

She added that a convention for an internal primary process has also been considered, but one of the weaknesses is “is the level of representativeness”, since a wide participation would be dangerous in the face of police and paramilitary harassment. 

The third option is a mixed modality, in which a convention that is representative of the organizations of the Coalition would be held; but at the same time, a survey would be applied for the population outside the Coalition, according to the director.

“Open voting”

José Pallais, of the National Coalition, said that within the coalition “they do not agree” with the deputies being elected through a traditional negotiation of “sharing quotas”. “Making a fair of deputies goes against the reality of a Nicaragua that has progressed. It would be unacceptable for the population”.

Pallais’ position has been previously expressed by some presidential aspirants of the Coalition -Miguel Mora, of the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD), and Félix Maradiaga, of the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB)-, who consider that the tradition of parties or organizations of a political alliance imposing their “quota” of candidates for deputies would be left behind with an “open vote”. 

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, former executive director of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD), indicated that to him, the polls seem the most “reasonable” mechanism to elect deputies, although he clarified that the discussion is “how” the opposition platforms will elaborate a common list that “represents the people of Nicaragua”. 

For this pre-candidate, who is also registered in the Citizens’ Alliance, this list of candidates must be composed of citizens who meet two main requirements: to be elected by the people -in a process that gives them legitimacy-, and to be “people recognized by the population”.

Departmental polls

Víctor Borge Carvajal, president of the polling firm Borge y Asociados, explained to CONFIDENCIAL that candidates for deputies can be elected by polls, although it would require “a poll for each department and a national poll”.

This process “can take a month and is relatively expensive,” the pollster indicated.

He suggested that the sample of each poll should be in accordance with the number of deputies that each department grants, since it is not advisable to use the same sample for a department that grants two deputies with one that grants four, since the margins between competitors would be smaller in the department with more seats in the race.

Managua is the department that grants the most deputies with a total of 19; Matagalpa, León and Chinandega, give six each; Masaya is the only department that elects four legislators; Estelí, Jinotega, Carazo, Granada, Chontales and the Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast (RACCN) vote for three deputies each; Rivas, Boaco, Nueva Segovia, Madriz and the Autonomous Region of the Southern Caribbean Coast (RACCS) give two legislators each; Río San Juan is the only department that elects one.

The number of legislators elected per department is calculated based on an electoral quotient, which is obtained by dividing the base of the departmental vote by the number of deputies of each department, according to article 147 of the current Electoral Law.

Borge warned, “When we have the results, it is very common that in the poll there are several pre-candidates that obtain percentages lower than the margin of error of the sample in that department. In other words, there are multiple ‘technical ties’ and the losers do not accept the result”.

He emphasized that the opposition platforms must “clearly define which are the requirements to register as a pre-candidate. And the criteria to inhibit”.

He said that these tie-breaking criteria can be public service experience or local leadership, as well as the capacity to finance their campaign.

“The poll works best when the party leadership has the strength to impose the tie-breaker and avoid chaos,” the pollster detailed. 

Negotiation or “dedazo”

Traditionally, deputies in Nicaragua have been the result of a caudillo’s mandate or political negotiations. Polls have never been used to select them, only as an indicator of the popularity of the different aspirants.

In the elections that the opposition faced with Ortega in power -1990, 2011 and 2016-, the list of deputies was the result of arduous negotiations between several political parties.

In 1990, the National Opposition Union – made up of 14 political parties – agreed that “the seven ‘big’ parties would have seven deputies each, the five ‘medium’ parties five each, and the two ‘small’ and unincorporated parties, two each, which added up to 78, and then fill in the rest”, Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, who was Minister of the Presidency during the government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, detailed in his book, “The Difficult Nicaraguan Transition”. 

In 2011, the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) obtained 27 deputies out of the 90 in dispute. This organization participated in alliance with the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the  Let’s Go with Eduardo (Montealegre) Movement and a faction of the Nicaraguan resistance. 

Enrique Saenz, former president of the MRS who participated in the negotiations of that year, explained that as a party, they were aware that the fundamental weight was held by the PLI and the Let’s Go with Eduardo Movement. “The MRS did not have legal status, so we went to negotiate in conditions in which we had only our political weight, conjectured by the behavior of the MRS deputies and a certain respectability”, he commented.

He emphasized that they executed a “negotiation strategy of combining proprietary and alternate deputies”. The MRS obtained two proprietary legislators and three substitutes, while they obtained two seats in the Parlacen. 

He highlighted that the 2011 negotiations were the result of a “trust building process” which began in 2008, during the municipal elections. That year, the ruling Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) took away the legal status of the MRS – now called Unión Democrática Renovadora (Unamos) -, so it could not participate in the municipal elections; in this scenario they decided to support the candidates of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), the latter eventually joined the PLI.

However, the negotiations were different by 2016. The PLI refused to have a joint selection process with the forces that made up the National Coalition for Democracy, but rather “negotiated bilaterally, party by party, organization by organization,” said a source linked to those negotiations.

“(In 2016) with the “hand-picked mechanism” there were no major parameters, very traditional politics. The MRS was offered two seats in the first six national seats, two seats in the first six in Managua,” the source detailed.

“There were no major criteria other than their will,” the source added.

Deputations: An obstacle to unity

Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, independent presidential aspirant, recently warned that the current lack of opposition unity is due to the fact that “a transparent methodology for the selection of candidates for deputies has not been agreed upon”.

“In the same way that we are discussing how to select the presidential candidate competitively and without a hand-picked mechanism, in that same way we should discuss, with transparency, the selection of deputies”, she stressed.

Juan Sebastián Chamorro wrote in his personal blog that the quotas of deputies “is the essence of the problem that prevents talks” of an opposition unity.

“Each party should accept that it is the other’s turn to give something, a chair. Each bloc wants to get a number of chairs greater than or equal to what it would get if it participates alone in the election. As the saying goes, to see which comes out better, to be the head of the mouse instead of the tail of the lion,” Chamorro pointed out.

“There are too many aspirants to the National Assembly seats; the problem is that there are not enough seats for so many people. In addition, the situation is complicated because many are not satisfied with being on the list; they want to be the first on the list, because those – he wrote – are the winning positions”.

Pallais, also a former deputy, has stated that the choice of deputies “has been the main sticking point of the (opposition) alliances, which has caused more controversy and has required more time”.

“If we remove that element (deputies) and leave it to the people, it makes the negotiation easier”, he said.

Issue within the platforms

Kitty Monterrey, the president of the Citizens for Liberty (CxL) party, affirmed in a recent interview for the Esta Semana program that “in this party, nobody has been proposed for deputy and the subject has never even been discussed; we have not even touched upon it with our ally which is the Civic Alliance”.

The executive director of the Civic Alliance, José Dávila Membreño, affirmed to CONFIDENCIAL that no criteria have been expressed on how to elect deputies within the Citizens’ Alliance. 

“The only thing that is clear is the aspiration of having an opposition bench that is solid, firm and without doubts. (To avoid what happened) in previous elections, where the benches or allies become others”, stressed the economist, referencing past legislatures where members of a political alliance have formed their own benches and become collaborators of the Sandinista Front.

“There are no advances in the issue of the deputations, it will probably be seen in May, since we have focused on the issue of registration of pre-candidates in April, a period that ends on April 29”, said Davila, who is part of the Liaison Committee between the Civic Alliance and CxL within the Citizens’ Alliance.

He added that “it does not make sense” to negotiate the deputations at this moment, because it would “introduce” an element of “distraction” from the process of the presidential pre-candidatures.

From the side of the National Coalition, the only concrete thing about the deputations has been the leak of a list of aspirants to legislators -of the National Assembly and the Parlacen- within the ranks of the UNAB. At first, the organization denied the authenticity of the document, then retracted it and confirmed its validity.

From the side of the National Coalition, the only concrete thing about the deputations has been the leak of a list of aspirants to legislators -of the National Assembly and the Parlacen- within the ranks of the UNAB. At first, the organization denied the authenticity of the document, then retracted it and confirmed its validity.

The list includes well-known student leaders, members of the Unión Democrática Renovadora (the former MRS), representatives of the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) and people whose names do not appear in the public arena.

In a statement, the UNAB  informed that it is “in a process of internal and democratic selection of pre-candidatures for deputies”, which will end next May 16.

The weight of CxL and the PRD 

Dávila acknowledged that regarding the issue of the deputies, the political parties -integrated in the opposition platforms- will have an “important role”, since they will have to “show” their “aspirations” regarding the deputies, and how they intend to accommodate their “allies”.

Among the opposition organizations, only CxL, for the Citizens’ Alliance, and the PRD, for the National Coalition, are the only political parties with legal status to participate in the next elections. Since the end of March, both parties have tried -without success- to coordinate a meeting, amid mutual accusations of the ruling.

In addition to the PRD and CxL, there is a large group of “zancudos” or collaborationist parties in the Nicaraguan political system, among them the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), the Alliance for the Republic (APRE), the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the Conservative Party (PC), and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), which have legal status.

While CxL keeps silent on the issue of the deputations, the PRD affirms they will adhere to whatever its allies within the Coalition decide. Julio González, leader of Democratic Restoration, assured they expect “to discuss the issue in May” within the party, and that, for the time being, “they believe in using a polling method”.

For the former liberal deputy and political analyst Eliseo Núñez, “the weight of the parties will be determined by the negotiations between them”. However, he emphasized that “the parties have tended to reduce their weight, but obviously today it has more to do with legality than legitimacy”.

He suggested that, in order to “ensure a balance between the weight of a party and the citizenry”, the opposition platforms would have to submit the election of the 70 departmental deputies to a popular consultation, while the 20 national deputies and the 20 deputies of the Parlacen “can serve for the negotiation of quotas among the political parties”.

He recalled that in the PLC, for the elections of 1996 and 2001 – which it won both years – the departmental deputations were elected in popular assemblies, called “conventional”, while the “national deputations, of the Parlacen and part of the deputations of Managua, were negotiated”.

The former deputy recommended that, in the matter of the first positions of the lists or “the winners”, some 35 would have to be elected by popular vote, and some 15 in “negotiations”.

For Núñez, the silence on the list of deputies is focused on the fact that the opposition organizations must recognize that “there is something to negotiate”. “If you want some position (of privilege) it has a huge (political) cost to assume.”

“Some of this is going to be negotiated”, he warned. 

This article has been translated by Ana María Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff. 

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