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Anti-Sandinista Delegation Says Election Being Rigged

April 25, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A delegation of Nicaraguan opposition leaders, ranging from an anti- Sandinist a Communist to Contra rebel spokesmen, accused the Nicaraguan government Tuesday of laying the groundwork for a rigged presidential election next February.

The State Department leveled similar charges and appealed to the Sandinistas to meet opposition demands for a more equitable process.

The Nicaraguan delegation said the Sandinistas are attempting to ensure victory in the election by stacking the all-powerful Supreme Electoral Council in their favor and by denying the opposition equal access to media outlets.

Twelve opposition leaders took part in a news conference, including Eli Altamirano of the Communist Party and three members of the U.S.-supported Contra rebels.

The occasion for their appearance was the deadline, established at a Central American summit meeting last February in El Salvador, for setting in motion an electoral process that will culminate in national elections 10 months from now.

At the summit, the Sandinistas promised to hold free and fair elections and the presidents agreed in return to draw up a plan for demobilizing the thousands of Contras assembled at camps in Honduras along the Nicaraguan border. The rebels have been subsisting on food and other non-lethal aid provided by the United States.

The Nicaraguan delegation had raised its concerns earlier about Sandinista policy toward the elections in meetings with officials from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

″We have denounced in these meetings the lack of compliance by the government of President Daniel Ortega in relation to the commitments which they undertook in El Salvador,″ said Agustin Jarquin, a representative of the Social Christian Party.

He said Sandinista actions ″will not permit fair and honest political competition.″

Jaime Bonilla, a member of the Independent Liberal Party, said the Sandinistas have agreed to name a non-partisan individual as head of the election council but that other aspects of the electoral machinery ″would remain dominated by the Sandinista front.″

Nicaraguan Embassy spokeswoman Cecilia Lopez said the new election laws were approved with the participation of the political parties represented in the legislature and are in compliance with the terms of the Central American summit meeting.

In a telephone interview, she said the law allows opposition parties more airtime for campaign purposes than they would have received under their original request.

In addition, she said, the Sandinistas, consistent with another pledge made at the summit, have released about 1,700 National Guardsmen who served the rightist regime which was ousted by the Sandinistas a decade ago.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the administration is troubled by both the substance of Nicaragua’s electoral laws and the manner in which they have been put into effect.

The electoral law approved last week ″is not the result of good faith bargaining between the government of Nicaragua and the internal opposition groups, and was unilaterally imposed after being passed by the Sandinista- dominated legislature,″ she said.

She said the law includes a provision requiring that the election council of which the Sandinistas maintain control receive one-half of any foreign political contributions.

The law ignores, she said, proposals made by the internal opposition for absentee balloting and procedures for ensuring the presence and unlimited access of international election observers.

A new law governing press conduct, she added, includes penalties for disseminating information which the Interior Ministry determines to be a violation of national integrity and allows officials to order closures of up to four days.

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