The major opposition coalition said today it had decided to accept an agreement negotiated earlier this month whereby it would register candidates for upcoming elections while the Nicaraguan government would allow free campaigning and delay the vote.
The ruling Sandinista Front made no official response but Sandinistas including a leader of their election campaign said the deadline for acceptance of the agreement had long passed, and the Nov. 4 vote could no longer be postponed.
The two versions and a number of related events here today, however, appeared again to leave up in the air -- at least in the minds of some -- the questions of when the elections would be held and whether the opposition coalition would participate.
Leaders of the Democratic Coordinator, a coalition representing four political parties, two labor unions and an association of businessmen, said after their statement they hoped West German ex-chancellor Willy Brandt, due to arrive here Friday, would persuade the Sandinistas to change their minds.
At the same time, there were indications in political circles that six other opposition parties may be prepared to support the Coordinator position that the vote should be postponed. The six parties all have registered candidates.
Brandt, who is a vice president of the Socialist International, was one of the principal mediators in talks earlier this month in Brazil between the Sandinistas and the Coordinator that led to an agreement.
The agreement called for the Sandinistas to lift media censorship, end restrictions on political organization and guarantee that political meetings could be held without direct or indirect government interference. In exchange, the Coordinator would end its electoral boycott and register candidates.
If the government kept its promise not to interfere with campaigning, the Coordinator would undertake to arrange, within a few weeks, a cease-fire by rebels seeking to overthrow the government. If the truce held, the government would postpone elections, probably until mid-January, to allow parties sufficient time to campaign.
Both Bayardo Arce, representing the Sandinistas, and Arturo Cruz, representing the Coordinator, apparently agreed on this scenario during the Brazil talks. But the accord fell apart, according to one Socialist International representative, when Cruz said he needed time for other coalition leaders in Managua to approve it, and Arce walked out, charging that the Coordinator was procrastinating.
Today, after lengthy internal consultations, the Coordinator announced it had approved the agreement. Many political figures and diplomats here have expressed the fear that if the election is not postponed and the Coordinator does not participate, the level of violence in Nicaragua will rise.
Sandinista sources here were still saying publicly that there was no chance of a postponement. "The Sandinista Front has given these people ample chance to participate," said Gioconda Belli, a high-ranking official in the Sandinista campaign. "We think it is obvious that they are only trying to put the whole electoral process in jeopardy."
Nonetheless, Arce and other Sandinista leaders were meeting today with the six other parties to discuss issues surrounding the vote.
Among the inducements to the Sandinistas to reconsider are the possibility of strong criticism from groups like the Socialist International that are carefully watching the electoral process here, and the prospect of a cease-fire in the 30-month-old guerrilla war.
In an interview at the time of the negotiations in Brazil, Adolfo Calero, head of the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the principal guerrilla group, said that the Coordinator had its proxy to negotiate a cease-fire.