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A Renewed Effort to Unite the Nicaraguan Opposition

“Either one of the two parties on the ballot could be the vehicle”. But the Superior Electoral Council could also eliminate either of them

A “Good Will Commission” was created this week, to seek unity among all those opposing the Ortega regime in Nicaragua. The Commission feels that unity must be achieved “outside the hegemony” of any particular political force.

The union must comprise “all of us, and not revolve around one particular option.” These were the words of Dr. Carlos Tunnermann Bernheim, an academic leader and the Commission’s spokesperson. Any other path, he maintained, “awakens resistance and mistrust”, leading to a repeat of the 2006 scenario. During that election, a divided opposition facilitated the return of Daniel Ortega to the Presidency.

Tunnermann spoke at length with journalist Carlos Chamorro, during a January 27th interview on the internet news program Esta Noche. “It seems to me that it’s a mistake” to call for unity around one particular group, he stressed. Tunnermann said, that’s “not the right road.” “I don’t believe an alliance where one group has hegemony will prosper. Nor will a candidacy that’s selected by a nod from the party leader.”

If the opposition continues to be fractured, Tunnermann warned, “the one to benefit will be Daniel Ortega.” That’s something “we must avoid, however we can.” He’s clear that the elections will include the FSLN and the “mosquito parties” – small parties that cooperate with the regime to get a few National Assembly seats. “We can’t avoid that, and it has to be.” However, “the opposition can’t go into the elections disunited. If so, “we’ll have a repetition of the 2006 scenario.”  In that year, three major parties and two minor parties were on the ballot. Ortega won with just under 38% of the vote.

Carlos Tunnermann is convinced the Nicaraguan population “wouldn’t accept” having some opposition groups resist the call to unite. Especially if they refuse, “because they want to be the runner-up political force in this country.” That “would be accepting division in order to gain a few seats in the National Assembly.” Instead, “we have to go [to elections] with the intention of defeating Ortega, so that democracy can return to this country,” he insisted.

The Superior Electoral Council could remove parties from the ballot

Currently, the opposition that organized after the massive protests of April 2018 is divided into two large groups. One is the National Coalition, and the other the Civic Allilance. Because these groups emerged so recently, neither has been officially constituted as a political party. Given the electoral rules for this, plus the government’s hostility towards the opposition, getting a space on the ballot is near-impossible. Hence, the groups must join forces with another legal party and appear under that name.

The National Coalition could piggy-back on the ballot slot allotted to the tiny Democratic Restoration Party. On the other side, the Civic Alliance has currently allied with the “Citizens for Liberty” party (CxL). “Either of those two ballot spaces could be the vehicle,” for the opposition to participate in the elections, Tunnermann asserted. However, the two sides maintain different postures.

Tunnermann believes the choice of which ballot space to use should be made once an electoral alliance has been achieved. The criteria for choosing would be “whichever has less chance of being thrown out by Ortega.” The Supreme Electoral Council is subservient to the interests of the ruler. Hence, “At any time they could remove the opposing party’s right to a space on the ballot,” he warned.

The Good Will Commission has set itself the task of forging unity among the opposition movements in Nicaragua. They aspire to defining “a procedure that allows us to present mutually-agreed-upon candidates for president and vice president. This procedure should be defined by the end of March, at the latest,” assured Tunnermann.

Surveys and debates to evaluate and define candidates

The academic leader is clear that “there is not time left” or “resources” for the opposition to organize primaries. Instead, he proposed that surveys and debates be held among those who aspire to be candidates for president.

“We [the Commission] have thought about organizing three debates, once the precandidates are accepted. One would be on the topic of the institutions. Another on social issues, and a third debate on economic matters. That would let Nicaraguans see what each precandidate thinks about the principal problems affecting the country,” Tunnermann explained.

Once the mechanism for selecting the presidential candidate is defined, they can agree on a procedure for selecting other candidates. These would include candidates to become national or departmental deputies, and representatives to the Central American Parliament. “We’d avoid the antiquated political tradition, where the caudillo or party boss is the one who designates the candidates.”

A “political audit”

In addition to helping unify the opposition, the Good Will Commission hopes to realize a kind of “political audit”. This would allow them to inform the public about the work of the opposition. It would also be a vehicle to clarify the conditions needed for the electoral process to take place.

“We want to do a kind of inspection of the opposition. That’s never existed in the country. It’s necessary so that the parties respond to the people’s interests and not those of their caudillos,” Tunnermann emphasized.

The Commission was welcomed by both the Blue and White National Unity and the National Coalition. Both organizations expressed gratitude for its mission to unify the opposition forces. They stressed that “this comes at the opportune moment.” Meanwhile, the Civic Alliance and CxL haven’t yet issued any statement on the initiative.

Tunnermann coordinated the Civic Alliance up until October 31st. He assured that some members of the Alliance have expressed sympathy with the Commission. He rejected the notion that the responsibility he held within the Alliance would hinder the push towards a united opposition.

Tunnermann clarified that he resigned from the Civic Alliance because he didn’t encounter any answers to his questions. He had posed questions about the true reasons why the Civic Alliance withdrew from the National Coalition. “Now, we see that they already had a plan to form an alliance with CxL,” he commented. As coordinator general, “I couldn’t continue in an Alliance where there were other political moves occurring that I was unaware of.”

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