The inaugural session of the 2012-2016 legislative National Assembly ended in yet another resounding political defeat for the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI) amid the usual shoves, shouts and histrionics associated with Nicaraguan democracy.
Despite representing the second-largest voting bloc in the National Assembly, the PLI boycotted the election for congressional directorate and ceded full control to the ruling Sandinista Front, which will now set the legislative agenda unilaterally for the next two years.
Sandinista lawmaker Rene Núñez was reelected president of National Assembly for an unprecedented third term, and the Sandinistas awarded themselves five of seven seats on the directorate. The remaining two seats were given to the Sandinistas’ old “pacto” pals—the only two lawmakers elected by former President Arnoldo Alemán’s Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC).
The 26 PLI lawmakers abandoned the National Assembly shortly after being sworn in as lawmakers. They stomped out in disgust after being unable to negotiate three seats on the directorate (the Sandinistas offered them only two).
“What we saw today was an indication of what is going to happen in the National Assembly for the next few years,” says political analyst Felix Maradiaga. “The opposition, despite their good intentions, just don’t have the number of votes they need to put the brakes on the Sandinistas. Lesson learned.”
Critics say the PLI made a string of “strategic errors” in their first day in National Assembly. The first was to show up at all and accept their seats, thereby legitimizing an electoral process they have criticized as illegal and illegitimate.
And the second mistake, Maradiaga says, was for the 26 PLI lawmakers to then boycott the directorate vote, essentially leaving them “without voice or vote” for the next two years in congress.
Meanwhile, in the Assembly’s public viewing gallery, a hockey fight broke out between a group of women who were trying to hold up a protest banner and another group of zaftig Sandinistas who tried to silence their protest.
While the women shoved and hollered, the Sandinista and PLC lawmakers who remained on the congressional floor amid the vacated PLI seats stood foolishly and watched the fight on the other side of the glass. The image of bewildered lawmakers standing around with their hands in their pockets while their constituents fought and shout on the other side of the glass was almost poetic.
The directorate vote was eventually conducted while the wrestling women provided the familiar electoral backdrop of shouts, grunts and hollers.
After his reelection, Assembly President Núñez said he “lamented” the PLI’s boycott because the Sandinistas had every intention of creating a pluralistic directorate.
The PLI says that’s balderdash. They argue that the law of proportionality should have provided the PLI with three seats, but the Sandinistas would surrender only two.
Instead, the forfeited chairs went PLC lawmakers, who were happy for the table scraps. Wilfredo Navarro was given the tertiary post of third vice-president, and Jorge Castillo Quant was given the even less-important role of third secretary. The PLC, which doesn’t even have the five-lawmaker minimum to form a legislative bloc, now has 100% representation on the directorate, in total disproportion to their representation in congress.
The Sandinistas, who again claimed the spoils of victory for themselves, took the top five directorate posts: President Rene Núñez, First Vice President Iris Montenegro, Second Vice President Gladys Baez, First Secretary Alba Palacios and Second Secretary Raquel Dixon.
The Sandinistas control 62 votes in congress plus two more from their PLC allies. The PLI, meanwhile, is expected to use their 26 “protest votes” in effective boycott for the next two years.