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Government, Political Parties

Sandinista National Liberation, FSLN, Liberal Alliance, Matagalpa, Sandinistas

From the time of independence until the 1970s, Nicaraguan politics were dominated by the Liberal and Conservative parties. These parties represented rival factions within the elite class, while other groups had little political voice. Traditionally, the Conservatives supported the Catholic Church and were closely tied to rural, landowning interests, while Liberals emphasized free trade, were more open to foreign influences, and sought to restrict church power. But by the 20th century their ideological differences had decreased, and both parties splintered into many smaller factions. From 1936 until the 1970s, the Somoza dictatorship dominated the political arena, controlling most of the Liberals and facing little effective opposition.

After the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, the number of political parties in Nicaragua grew. But many of them failed to survive for more than one election. For many years, the major political force was the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the leftist guerrilla force that toppled Somoza in 1979. The Sandinistas governed the country until 1990. A coalition of opposition parties defeated the Sandinistas in 1990 elections, but the coalition soon split, leaving the Sandinistas considerable power.

Thirty-two national political parties plus several local civic associations participated in Nicaragua’s 1996 elections. The Liberal Alliance, a coalition of factions of the traditional Liberal Party, won the presidency and the largest number of seats in the National Assembly. The alliance drew support from the business community and from areas of traditional Liberal strength such as Leon and Matagalpa. Its policies favored business interests, welcomed U.S. involvement, and sought to privatize government enterprises.

The Sandinistas finished second, drawing their strongest support from the urban poor and organized labor. As an opposition party, the Sandinistas sought to retain what they regarded as the political, social, and economic gains made under their revolution. They favored moving more slowly to privatize government-run businesses, protecting the interests of the poor, and following an independent foreign policy rather than being closely linked to the United States.

The Liberal Party and the Sandinistas together drafted an amendment to the constitution that limits seats in the National Assembly to candidates whose parties gain at least 4 percent of the vote. Critics said the amendment, added in 2000, would stifle opposition to the two largest parties.

Fewer political parties participated in the 2001 elections. The Liberal Party won the presidency and a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. The Sandinistas won the second largest set of seats in the assembly.

Article key phrases:

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