The Sandinista government has set the stage for endorsement of its revolutionary rule in Nicaraguan elections without the broad international acceptance it had hoped to win by holding a vote.
Sandinista officials and foreign diplomats have concluded that much of the democratic sheen Nicaragua hoped to beam to its supporters abroad has been lost during the bickering with would-be presidential candidate Arturo Cruz.
The negotiations apparently broke down a week ago, and the Sandinistas announced that they would hold the elections on schedule without the participation of Cruz and his Democratic Coordinator.
The Sandinista Front's hopes that elections would be seen as a legitimate contest received a further blow Sunday night, when the Independent Liberal Party decided to withdraw from the campaign, Washington Post correspondent Robert J. McCartney reported from San Salvador.
The pullout was approved at a party meeting in Managua and will take effect unless the voting day is postponed and restrictions on political liberties eased. The Independent Liberals, criticizing the Sandinistas from the right, had been widely viewed as the most prominent party participating in the campaign.
The Independent Liberals' presidential candidate, Virgilio Godoy, said in a telephone interview from Managua that the Sandinistas had failed to establish "the minimum conditions . . . for liberty of expression and guarantees of the right of political mobilization." He criticized the Sandinistas for failing to fully lift a state of emergency that limited political liberties.
Some Sandinista officials have charged that conservative Cruz supporters in the business establishment never intended to let the Coordinator candidate run, whatever Cruz's own intentions may have been.
"We feel the Coordinator has the intention of robbing the elections of their legitimacy," said Gioconda Belli, a Sandinista Front official heading the Sandinistas' presidential and legislative campaign. "In spite of all they say about democracy, they are not exercising it."
The Democratic Coordinator, grouping several political parties, labor unions and business interests, had represented the only direct political challenge to the Sandinista Front in the five years since it came to power. The Reagan administration has portrayed the Coordinator's refusal to participate in elections as proof that the Sandinistas have brooked no opposition.
Since the campaign began, however, some of the six other parties running against the front have begun to take advantage of loosened censorship to press their case against the Sandinistas. In a full-page advertisement recently in the progovernment Nuevo Diario newspaper, for example, the Democratic Conservative Party appealed to voters:
"On your decision depends whether we expel forever from Nicaragua the Communist dictatorship of the Sandinista Front."
During a recent campaign rally, Godoy accused the Sandinista leaders of "monstrous lies" and of living in luxury while calling on people to make sacrifices for the revolution. His remarks were reported in full in both the progovernment and opposition press.
In another sign that the Sandinistas seek to bestow importance on the six opposition parties that had registered, top revolutionary commanders have held a round of meetings with party leaders to discuss election rules and other national issues.
The Sandinistas have labeled the meetings a "national dialogue," taking a cue from demands laid down months ago by the Coordinator and exiles who lead U.S.-sponsored insurgent forces.
From the left, the small Popular Action Movement -- Marxist-Leninist, has laced its campaigning with accusations that the Sandinistas have become soft on the bourgeoisie and are delaying the revolution.
Despite the campaign talk and a new willingness to let the people hear it, Sandinista officials have made it clear that the outcome of the elections is not in doubt. Their confidence has grown in part from recognition that Nicaraguans, used to fraud during the prerevolutionary rule of the late Anastasio Somoza and to civil war before that, have never acquired a tradition of expressing assent or opposition to their rulers through the ballot box.
Diplomatic observers here have said, however, that the Nov. 4 balloting could possibly create a small but legally protected opposition in the 90-member constituent and legislative assembly that will be chosen simultaneously with a president and vice president.