Since her election as president of Nicaragua last February, Violeta Chamorro has been looking over her shoulder, fearing that the defeated Sandinista government will try to bring down her struggling administration. She also should have been looking right beside her -- at her vice president, Virgilio Godoy.

The Sandinistas threatened to rule the country from below when they lost the presidency, and the massive strikes that paralyzed Nicaragua in July proved that the old Sandinista politicos of the left had the power to do that. But the left has not been Chamorro's only problem. A coalition of right-wingers also used the strikes to further unsettle Chamorro's shaky administration. Ironically, the politician who emerged as the leader of that far-right coalition was Godoy -- the vice president whom Chamorro has refused to assign a desk or any duties.

Godoy is one of Nicaragua's most experienced politicians, and he has one of the country's biggest political egos. He is a party jumper, a former Sandinista, who will make dubious alliances to gain power.

During the election campaign, tensions ran high between Godoy and the relatively young and inexperienced Chamorro clique. The friction came to a head after the election when Godoy was denied an office in the Presidential Palace. Chamorro has yet to assign him duties. That gives Godoy plenty of time for mischief, and he used Chamorro's first crisis to make a comeback. In the midst of the July strikes, Godoy mobilized forces on the right and formed the National Salvation Committee. The group claimed the government's policy of national reconciliation had all but ceded power to the Sandinistas. Nicaragua's Catholic hierarchy chimed in with thinly veiled criticisms of Chamorro.

The former international secretary of Godoy's party, the Independent Liberal Party, told our associate Dean Boyd that Godoy had made the right moves. "Godoy did not take the political heat for the mistakes made by Chamorro. He capitalized on them by criticizing her as well as the Sandinistas."

But Godoy's excessive carping backfired. A group, reputedly armed and calling itself the Brigades of National Salvation, began distributing literature echoing Godoy's criticisms. The vibrant Nicaraguan press began blaming some land takeovers and shooting incidents on the brigades and, by association, Godoy.

The most controversial of the stories had Godoy and the U.S. ambassador plotting the overthrow of Chamorro. The United States denied the rumor, but has not gone out of its way lately to stick up for Chamorro. One U.S. diplomat was quoted anonymously in the U.S. press saying of Chamorro, "Even her friends call her rag doll. . . . Nobody respects her."

The rumors about violence and coup plots have cost Godoy supporters. Many of those who rallied around him during the strikes have since realized that his anti-Chamorro rhetoric was only serving as ammunition for the Sandinistas.

Sources in Managua told us that momentum for another general strike recently subsided because both the Sandinistas and the government feared a strike would provoke a coup from the right.