The Nine Lives of Daniel Ortega

Once again, Nicaragua faces a possible Sandinista restoration. The country votes on November 5 in an unprecedented presidential election with four competitive candidates, and the question on everyone’s lips is whether Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who lost by more than 10% in each of the last three presidential votes, will succeed in regaining power this time.

Nicaragua’s politics are polarized between a Sandinista minority and a majority that is clearly anti-Sandinista, yet Ortega has a real chance of winning. How is this so?

Despite conspicuous efforts by the Bush administration to unify Nicaragua’s right, the anti-Sandinista forces are divided. The traditional wing, the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), controlled by former President Arnoldo Alemán, who is under house arrest since being convicted of corruption, has José Rizo as its candidate. The moderate wing, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), is led by banker Eduardo Montealegre, with huge support from the private sector and the Bush administration.

But the FSLN (the Sandinista National Liberation Front), too, has suffered a major rupture, with the emergence of a new option on the democratic left in the form of a breakaway Sandinista faction that has managed to win the support of independent voters. Its candidate, the economist Edmundo Jarquín, is a former expert on governance issues at the Inter-American Development Bank.