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Diskin to observe Sunday's Nicaraguan elections

By Miguel Cantillo

Professor of Anthropology Martin Diskin will be an observer for the Nicaraguan elections this Sunday, Feb. 25. Diskin will act as a representative for the Latin American Studies Association, an independent group that will be in Nicaragua this weekend assessing the integrity of the elections.

The 1.7 million registered Nicaraguan voters will elect their president, legislative representatives and municipal leaders from 11 parties, ranging from conservative to Trotskyist.

Seven survey research organizations have conducted a total of 13 public opinion polls in Nicaragua between June 1988 and mid-December 1989. According to the most recent polls, the Sandinista candidate, current Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, is still ahead in the race. The strongest contender is Violeta Chamorro, leader for the National Opposition Union (UNO). A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey reported that that 48 percent of the voters favored Ortega over Chamorro. Thirty-two percent indicated support for Chamorro in the poll, while 16 percent remained undecided.

UNO is an 11 party coalition formed by interests that range from conservative to socialist. Jonathan A. Fox, an assistant professor of political science, said the results will be closer than the polls predicted since the polling methods were relatively new to Nicaragua, and previous results had varied widely. He said the Sandinistas will win, though, because UNO lacked homogeneity.

Fox argued that although there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the Sandinistas' economic management, UNO lost much public support after it hesitated to condemn the US intrusion into the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama. Economic support from the United States for UNO was also a source of division, said Fox. In fact, the Popular Social Christian party left UNO because of a dispute over this assistance.

After the election, the non-Sandinista groups will have more political space, Fox claimed. The Sandinistas currently control 61 out of 96 seats in the National Constituent Assembly, but this number will likely drop after this weekend's elections. There have also been rumors recently that the Sandinistas will give some cabinet positions to the Social Christian Party.

After the election, European donor countries -- France and the Scandinavian countries in particular -- will probably renew their aid to the Sandinistas. The American position, however, will likely be very different.

Fox predicted that if the Sandinistas win, the United States will lift its embargo but give no aid to Nicaragua. The Soviets will continue their aid since the Nicaraguans are following the perestroika line more closely than Cuba, Fox argued.

The support from Western European countries will probably help the ailing Nicaraguan economy, which last year had an inflation rate of over 30,000 percent. Living standards have dropped to 1951 levels.

The Sandinistas blame the economic collapse on the US embargo and the 1979 civil war. Over 30,000 Nicaraguans have been killed in the civil war; another 30,000 have been wounded; and almost 11,000 have been kidnapped or captured.