Perhaps the only thing more striking than the upset victory of opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua's presidential race was the incredible fairness of Sunday's elections, says a Kansas University professor who observed the voting in Nicaragua.
"This is a very poor country without many resources, but this was one of the most nearly perfect elections that you could imagine," said Charles Stansifer, a KU history professor and former director of KU's Center for Latin American Studies.
With the presidential vote going to the opposition, observers are now seeking to explain the defeat of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.
Stansifer, who has been in Nicaragua since last Tuesday as an official observer of the elections, said in a telephone interview with the Journal-World this morning that Ortega's campaign might have been too slick for its own good.
"It was so slick, so super smooth, so overwhelming. Perhaps the voters decided they'd had enough of such a powerful state and party," he said.
Stansifer is in Nicaragua as one of 12 representatives of the Latin American Studies Assn. (LASA), which in turn is one of many organizations that the Nicaraguan government invited to monitor the elections.
IN CONTRAST to Ortega's media overkill, Chamorro's party appears to have participated in a lot of door-to-door campaigning, and that more personal approach probably appealed to many voters, Stansifer said.
Also, the Nicaraguan economy has suffered, and President Bush's promise to end economic sanctions against Nicaragua in the event of a Chamorro victory probably worked in her favor, Stansifer said.
"And polls indicate that a very large percentage of the Nicaraguan people wanted an improvement of relations with the United States," he said.
Both Ortega and Chamorro had promised to end the military draft if elected, but Stansifer said Ortega might have been better off had he ended the draft before the election.
The electoral council took longer than expected to report the votes, and members of the opposition party suspected that the council had expected a Sandinista victory and didn't know what to do when they found Chamorro leading.
STANSIFER discounted that theory, saying, "The council was excessively optimistic about being able to announce the preliminary vote count."
Originally, the council was going to announce the first 5 percent of returns at 10 p.m. Sunday, but when they missed that deadline, they waited until 2 a.m. today to announce 20 percent of the returns, Stansifer said.
The vote-counting might have been slowed down because the voters were casting three different ballots, one for the presidency, one for the national assembly and one for municipal elections. The similar colors of those ballots and the poor lighting at some of the voting places caused ballots to be placed in the wrong box, and the electoral council lost time in sorting out the ballots, Stansifer said.
Stansifer said he estimated the voter turnout was about 95 percent.
"There were long lines at the opening of the polls, so it was evident that people wanted to vote early," he said.
The hotter weather of the afternoons and a false rumor that there was a scarcity of ballots were probably two reasons that voters turned out so early, Stansifer said.
ROBERT TOMASEK, professor of political science at KU, said he would like to see the Chamorro government and the Sandinistas attempt to cooperate.
"I hope they'll go into some type of government of national reconciliation," he said.
Tomasek said Chamorro might not only be challenged by the Sandinistas but also face dissension in her own party.
"Chamarro has very little experience in running a government, and her coalition is such a motley assortment of parties," he said.
Marc Becker, a KU graduate student in Latin American studies and a member of Latin American Solidarity, said, "It will be interesting to see how the Nicaraguan people will react to a Chamorro government, which is planning to bring in the U.S. economic dominance that people threw out just 10 years ago."