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Why did the opposition’s electoral alliance fail? Can there still be unity?

“An electoral alliance was not achieved, but elections should not be surrendered,” suggests a political scientist

“An electoral alliance was not achieved

Moisés Martínez

26 de mayo 2021


The failed electoral alliance between Ciudadanos por la Libertad (CxL), grouped in the opposition platform Alianza Ciudadana, and the Partido de Restauración Democrática (PRD), linked to the National Coalition, had quotas of political responsibility among all those involved so that the process would not come to fruition, political scientists and analysts consulted by CONFIDENCIAL pointed out. However, they also agree that the priority now is to heal the wounds of the failed electoral unity process, and for the opposition to focus on building a solid political alliance in view of the registration of candidates, which will be established from July 28 onwards.

Humberto Meza, PhD in Political Science and researcher at the University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, believes that the PRD and CxL's share of political responsibility lies in the ambition to superimpose their party agendas over the calls for electoral alliance made by a majority of social, economic and political sectors of the country. However, Meza explained that the actions of the PRD and CxL follow the logic of how political parties work.

“In a certain way it was a miscalculation, so to speak, of Nicaraguan society, to think that the civic union that was formed in 2018 against Ortega could translate into the institutional unity of these political parties in the elections. They are two different phenomena. Parties have their own agendas and those agendas require having a certain hegemony, and if you make an alliance from a political party, you want that alliance to be hegemonic, and that hegemony is not easy to achieve when you have many interests at stake,” Meza pointed out.

From his perspective, the main difference in these processes is the control that Daniel Ortega's dictatorship has over the national electoral system, which has an influence on hindering the unity processes that the opponents aim to achieve.

An analysis published by CONFIDENCIAL this Wednesday detailed how the regime used the control they have over the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to design an electoral calendar that hindered the already complicated process of electoral alliance among the opponents.  “The regime decides the electoral calendar, decides which are the magistrates, and decides all the rules of the game. In this sense, it is not possible to achieve unity, because not all political forces are on equal terms”, said Meza.

The sense of defeat suits Daniel Ortega

However, despite the failure of the opposition electoral alliance and the obstacles imposed by the dictatorship, Meza says that Nicaraguan society should not be demoralized in its struggle for the restoration of democracy in the country.

“What we cannot allow is for a sense of defeat to be generated from what happened. That suits (Daniel) Ortega and it does not suit those who aspire to a return of democracy in Nicaragua. All is not lost. Electoral unity was not achieved, but patience, this does not mean that the elections must be surrendered. For better or worse, there will be opposition and there will be candidates. The people who went to the streets in 2018 will have to decide which candidate to bet on. What we must insist on is to continue making the injustice, the violation of human rights, and the political prisoners visible. We have to take advantage of the elections to highlight the issue of human rights and the candidates have to assume this agenda”, insisted Meza.

Carlos Tünnermann Bernheim, president of the Comisión de Buena Voluntad (GoodWill Commission), consulted on the Esta Noche program, and the political scientist Manuel Orozco, in an interview with CONFIDENCIAL, both agreed that one of the main flaws in the negotiation process of the electoral alliance was the proposal of the PRD referring to a 50% of the candidacies for deputies. This was perceived by CxL representatives as an "assault" on the political party, given that this issue had not even been discussed within the Alianza Ciudadana. This proposal, together with the controversy on how the legal representation of the electoral alliance should be handled, were the main obstacles in the negotiations.

"As Secretary Luis Almagro said in the OAS session, Nicaragua is preparing for the worst possible election. There is awareness in the international opinion that there are very difficult conditions here, and if the conditions are difficult, that is all the more reason why we have to be united, because the way to defeat Ortega is with a tsunami of votes, with a single candidate and with a united opposition. That is the only way, even if we do not have electoral observation", Tünnermann Bernheim expressed on the Esta Noche program.

It is not 1990 or 1996, “it will be like 2006”

Political scientist José Antonio Peraza, member of the Unidad Azul y Blanco (Unab), organization grouped in the National Coalition, mainly questioned the political vision promoted by the Alianza Ciudadana, referring that this opposition platform may reissue the electoral triumphs against the Frente Sandinista occurred in 1990 and 1996.

The scenario envisioned by Peraza is similar to what happened in 2006, when the PLC, main opposition force at that time, divided the anti-Sandinista vote after the political pact between Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega, which made the return of the red and black caudillo to power possible.

“Within the Citizens' Alliance, there is a vision that it is possible to go alone, and that the people will define who has the support of the majority. I believe that this vision is wrong in this context. It is not 1990. We do not have a war. Those were borderline conditions, which we do not have today. The example of 1996 is also not the same”, he said. However, he added that “there are possibilities of another agreement, but of another type, outside the legality of the CSE”. 

The political scientist pointed out that the problem of the political arithmetic made by CxL and Alianza Ciudadana is that there are no foundations to sustain it, and that in any case, they are based on “hunches”, something that from his perspective is quite risky for the institutional future of the country.

“We cannot play Russian roulette with what the people of Nicaragua demand, which are answers and solutions to the problem of the dictatorship. The theory of the 'useful vote' is not something that can be affirmed with such certainty. I am not saying that it cannot happen, but what worries me is that with this situation of repression and the police state that the country is experiencing, we cannot be basing things on lotteries and hunches, when you have a people suffering from a dictatorship. It is the future of Nicaragua for the next five years and be careful what is at stake if things are not resolved”, he insisted.

The useful vote is a political hypothesis, raised mainly by members of the Alianza Ciudadana, which includes the undecided group or people without preference for any specific political option, but who would be adverse to the regime, so they would be willing to vote for any opposition platform, as long as it convinces them as the best option to eradicate Ortega's regime from power. According to projections of surveys and polls, the so-called useful vote may reach up to 70% of the Nicaraguan electorate.

PRD took the electoral alliance agreement “and left it”

Political analyst Eliseo Núñez Morales, advisor for Alianza Ciudadana, acknowledged that the quotas of political responsibility in the failure of the opposition electoral alliance are shared among the actors involved in the negotiations, but highlighted that the lack of an agreement came from the PRD, despite the fact that most of the conditions requested by this political party had already been accepted. 

“Everything was ready for an agreement, but the PRD simply took it and left it. It is true that there were hard positions from both parties during the previous days, but when an agreement was already in place, the PRD basically decided not to take it. They will have to give their explanations about what happened”, he answered. 

As one of the most contradictory points during the final stage of the negotiations, the analyst pointed out the meeting called by the PRD authorities with the CxL at four o'clock in the afternoon, which could not take place due to the time limit established by the CSE to register the alliances.

“Arriving at four in the afternoon, when the closing was at five in the afternoon, and it is in the electoral calendar, the Civil Procedural Code and the Electoral Law itself, made them look seriously suspicious of not wanting an agreement, because you would be left with only one hour to sign the agreement, make the public deed and then present it at the Supreme Electoral Council. In other words, they were not going to present anything,” he explained. 

For the political analyst, negotiations will now have to be focused on the unity around the presidential pre-candidatures grouped in the opposition platforms.  “One must aim at presenting a single electoral offer. The time for formal alliances has run out and the clock is ticking for other types of alliances that can be made. What happened must serve as a lesson for us to understand that we have to negotiate with transparency and trust”, he concluded.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Ana María Sampson



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Moisés Martínez

Moisés Martínez