MANAGUA – Attempts by civil society and minority parties to form a broad opposition coalition that excludes right-wing political caudillo Arnoldo Alemán could backfire and clinch victory for the Sandinistas in the 2011 presidential elections, warns former presidential candidate José Rizo.
Rizo, who was handpicked by Alemán as the Liberal Constitutional Party’s (PLC) presidential candidate in 2006, speaks from experience.
He claims his defeat in the previous elections – when he split the opposition vote with challenger Eduardo Montealegre, allowing Sandinista boss Daniel Ortega to win the presidency with only 38 percent support – shows that “opposition unity” without Alemán is really division.
Rizo says that if the opposition fails to learn from that mistake and again attempts to build an electoral coalition that marginalizes Alemán’s candidacy, “Nicaragua will be condemned to repeat the pain of 2006.”
“The PLC is still the only opposition party that has organization and structure in every corner of the country, so unity without the PLC won’t be successful,” Rizo told The Nica Times. “Unity is fundamental to victory in 2011. But unity without the PLC doesn’t make sense.”
The problem, for many, is that unity with Alemán doesn’t make much sense either. At least that’s the sentiment of the majority of
Nicaraguans who tell pollsters they don’t want anything to do with bipartisan politics as usual.
Alemán and Ortega – party bosses who have essentially been partners in the power-sharing pact that has defined Nicaragua’s status-quo political crisis for the past decade – consistently poll as two of the least popular public figures in Nicaragua.
That’s why recent polls show that if the two squared off in the next presidential election, most voters would just give up and stay at home (voter-abstention projections show less than 50 percent of people would vote) (NT, July 30).
Despite the discouraging polling numbers for Alemán, the PLC caudillo has remained steadfast in his ambitions to return to the nation’s highest seat, which he occupied from 1997 to January 2002.
As the appointed candidate for the PLC, which has some 400,000 members nationwide, Alemán is actively preparing for inter-party primaries, although at this point it doesn’t appear that anyone is going to run against him.
Even the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, the non-governmental organization that originally agreed to oversee the inter-party primary process, is trying to back out before the primary turns into a PLC-authored sham to ratify Alemán’s candidacy.
A New Consensus Candidate?
As Alemán’s candidacy sputters, a growing number of minority parties and civil society leaders are publicly endorsing the upstart pre-candidacy of opposition radio personality Fabio Gadea, who was recently proposed by Eduardo Montealegre as an ideal “consensus candidate.”
Montealegre, who finished second in the 2006 presidential contest, announced he will cede his own presidential aspirations next year and fully back Gadea. And he’s asking Alemán to do the same.
The PLC boss, however, has said he won’t renounce his presidential aspirations, “Even if the Pope asks me to.”
The Pope hasn’t had anything to say about Alemán’s candidacy, but sources closer to Nicaragua’s political scene are asking the PLC chieftain to step aside and allow for some much-needed political renewal – even if that “new face” is the aged mug of Gadea, who next month turns 79.
Though the elections are still 14 months away, support for Gadea has grown quickly.
In just three weeks, the producer of Radio Corporación has been backed by Montealegre’s political movement, the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLI), former contras and the Conservative Party. The leadership of the left-wing Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) is also speaking favorably about Gadea’s candidacy.
Meanwhile, civil society groups have been making overtures toward Gadea, while the opposition right-wing daily La Prensa is treating him like a Cinderella candidate.
Even early polls show Gadea has solid momentum out of the starting gate; he already polls ahead of Montealegre and leads Alemán by 27 points, according to a M&R Consultants survey released last month.
The hope of many in the opposition is that Gadea, a PLC maverick and former southern-front contra, can unify a broad coalition of different political and social movements – similar to former President Violeta Chamorro’s UNO coalition that defeated Ortega in 1990.
Only this time, civil society hopes to learn from the mistakes of UNO and make the coalition greater than just an electoral vehicle to beat Ortega in the polls.
“Fabio Gadea would be an excellent candidate, but he has to represent a government program of consensus among all opposition parties and civil society organizes that are going to back his candidacy,” said Carlos Tünnerman, of the civil group Movement for Nicaragua. “That way we won’t repeat the experience of Doña Violeta’s government, which, once in power, was left all alone as the movement for unity fell apart and everyone went their separate ways.”
Tünnerman added, “This time we need a true national government with a previously established government program – one that really responds to the needs of country and the demands of the people.”
Other political activist groups are also warming to the idea of unifying behind a new candidate such as Gadea.
Last week two civil society groups – the Patriotic Alliance and the Democratic Coalition – joined forces and released a declaration calling on all other political movements “that fight for democracy and development in the country” to unify against “the regimen of Daniel Ortega and the power-sharing pact that he has formed with Arnoldo Alemán.”
While the two groups stopped short of endorsing Gadea, insiders claim civil society is likely to back his candidacy once a greater grass-roots unity is achieved.
For now, activists say, the important thing is to rally the opposition and make people believe that change is possible.
And for many, Alemán doesn’t fit into that equation.
“Right now there is an urgency for unification, and the candidacy of Alemán divides, creates conflict and confrontation,” Tünnerman said.
“It is time to ask Alemán to decline his aspirations for the presidency,” he added. “He already had his historic chance as president of this country. And he didn’t take advantage of that moment to leave his mark on history; in fact, he didn’t leave a very good image.”
‘First, We Need a Plan’
Movement for Nicaragua says the first step towards reclaiming democracy in Nicaragua is to ensure that credible and honest magistrates are elected to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), and that the current cast of authorities are ousted.
“First, we need to guarantee that we are going to have a CSE that is going to count votes in a transparent and honest manner,” Tünnerman said. “If we don’t have that, if we have a CSE that is made up of the same magistrates or clones picked by Ortega, it won’t matter if we have a candidate of the quality of don Fabio, because there will be no guarantee of a free election; we will just repeat the electoral fraud of November 2008.”
Other civil society groups are also warning of a repeat performance of the 2008 municipal elections, in which the CSE is accused of rigging the votes and stealing victories for Sandinista candidates in more than 40 municipalities.
“We are totally convinced that they are hatching a new electoral fraud for 2011, an even larger-scale fraud than the one committed in the 2008 municipal elections,” reads the joint declaration from the Patriotic Alliance and the Democratic Coalition.
Movement for Nicaragua said it is planning massive mobilizations of citizens “in the coming days” to pressure lawmakers to elect the 25 magistrates and judges to replace those whose terms have expired in the CSE, the Comptroller General’s Office, the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman’s Office. Representatives of civil society are demanding that the opposition parties stick to their agreement (known as Metrocentro II) to not reelect any of the current electoral magistrates – all of whom the Sandinistas want to keep in place.
After new electoral magistrates are elected, Movement for Nicaragua said it will consult with other civic and political groups to develop a government program to unify the opposition. If Gadea agrees to represent that program, the civil society groups say they will back his candidacy.
But the plan must go before the man, according to Violeta Granera, executive director of Movement for Nicaragua.
“We are not following the logic of caudillismo; we are trying to break from the logic of political parties and political bosses deciding the future of Nicaragua,” she said. “All Nicaraguans should take the lead and say what we want, and the politicians must respond to citizen demands.”
But in order for that to work, people must get involved and reclaim their democracy, Granera stressed.
“The solution isn’t going to fall from heaven; there will be no miracles or saints to fix our problems,” she said. “Only the people can save the people. And we have to unify to do it.”
Next Week: Fabio Gadea discusses his presidential aspirations with The Nica Times.