ath: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Nicaragua
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 667-668
NICARAGUA: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Party politics in Nicaragua reflects several common themes in Latin American politics. After achieving independence from Spain in 1821, Nicaragua experienced the familiar party conflict between competing groups of elities who styled themselves as Liberals and Conservatives. Unlike the classical pattern, however, these elites did not reflect urban versus rural interests but were based in the rival cities of Leon (Liberal) and Granada (Conservative). Party conflict in Nicaragua, moreover, was nearer to open warfare, as control of the government alternated between the opposing forces. To protect American interests and investments, U.S. Marines landed to help maintain order in Nicaragua on several occasions during the first third of this century. Stability was finally achieved in Nicaraguan politics when Anastasio Somoza, selected as leader of the national guard organized by the U.S. Marines before they withdrew for the last time, was installed in 1937 as president as the candidate of the National Liberal Party. Thus began a long period of Somoza family dictatorship. In early 1950, Somoza family dictatorship. In early 1950, Somoza as leader of the Liberals and Emiliano Chamorro, leader of the Traditional Conservative Party signed the "Generals' Agreement," which set the pattern for party politics during our time period.

The Generals' Agreement engineered an accommodation between the parties, which ensured a victory for Somoza in the 1950 elections against token opposition from a Conservative candidate, Emiliano Chamorro Vargas. A new constitution in 1950 preserved the division of legislative seats between the majority and minority parties in the elections on a 2:1 basis--with the losing party thus always guaranteed one-third of the seats. Chamorro apparently believed that it would be the Traditional Conservative's turn in the government at the scheduled 1957 elections. Somoza, however, seemed to have other ideas, and the Traditional Conservatives later rebelled against his government and some deputies withdrew from congress. The situation peaked with Somoza's assassination in 1956.

Leadership of the government after Somoza's death fell to his eldest son, Luis, who became the presidential candidate of the National Liberals in 1957, and his brother, Anastasio Jr. (Tachito), who headed the National Guard. With the Traditional Conservatives repressed after the assassination, Luis had no opposition in the election. He, therefore, persuaded some cooperative old-line Conservatives of the former National Conservative Party, to oppose him in the election--in return for one-third of the seats. Luis Somoza won an overwhelming victory over Eduardo Amador Pineda who was offered for the defeat. Despite their holding one-third of the seats in congress, the new Nicaraguan Conservative Party was relatively small, and the Traditional Conservatives remained the only effective opposition party throughout our time period.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The smoothness of the pattern of legislative representation over time in Nicaragua is evidence that there has been no open competition in the elections. Nevertheless, there have been some changes in Nicaraguan party politics since 1962. Only two of our original parties have continued through 1978, and one new party has arisen to challenge the regime with force.

Original Parties, Terminated

472 Nicaraguan Conservative Party. The information is very sketchy, but it appears that the PCN, which split from the Traditional Conservative Party in 1957 to cooperate in Somoza's government, ended around 1971. The PCN clearly contested the 1967 elections separately from the PCT, but fared much worse and won only one seat in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1971 and 1972, the PCT and PCN leaders took turns participating in a triumvirate that supposedly governed Nicaragua while a new constitution was prepared to allow Anastasio Somoza, the deceased dictator's son, to be reelected as president. In the 1974 elections, the former PCN leader, Edmundo Paguaga Irías, was selected for defeat as the candidate of a single Conservative Party.

Original Parties, Continuing

471 National Liberal Party. The party of the Somoza family remained in control of the government long after the assassination of General Anastasio Somoza in 1956. His older son, Luis Somoza, was president in 1956-1963; his former secretary, René Schick Gutiérrez was president in 1963-1966; and his younger son, Anastasio Somoza, was president in 1967-1972 and changed the constitution to continue as president through 1980.

473 Traditional Conservative Party. One of two Conservative parties, which made for confusion in following party politics in Nicaragua, this one was less coperative for Somoza during the late 1950s and early 1960s, even boycotting the 1957 and 1963 elections. 1967, however, the party's longtime leader, Fernando Agüero Rocha, agreed to stand in the presidential elections and lost as anticipated. By 1972, it seems that the breakaway Conservative Party of Nicaragua had rejoined Agüero Rocha's party, for both he and Emundo Paguaga Irías were identified as leaders of two factions within the Conservative Party (Political Handbook of the World, 1975, p. 247).

New Parties, Continuing

474 Sandinist National Liberation Front. The FSLN was begun in 1960 but increased its activities after the 1974 elections (Keesing's Contemporary Archives, March 2, 1975, p. 26986). This party was not oriented to electoral politics but rather employed force and terrorist activities to bring down the government. Since 1977, the FSLN has been strong enough to fight battles in the cities and to hold areas for days against Somoza's National Guard. The party qualified for study both because of its durability and its demonstrated strength with some degree of popular support.


Throughout our time period, the Somoza family the Liberal Party had managed party politics by coopting the opposition through electoral arrangements that guaranteed fixed proportions of congressional seats to the losers of the controlled elections. Until 1972, the distribution of seats between the winners (Liberals) and the losers (some manifestation of Conservatives) was 2:1 but the ratio was then lowered to 3:2 as an added inducement. It is clear that the militant FSLN is playing for much higher stakes, however, and the chart of Nicaraguan party politics over time is unlikely to be as smooth in the future.2

1.Our study of party politics in Nicaragua is based on a file of 420 pages from 35 documents, 10 of which are in Spanish (see Table 1.3).The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Marvin Carlson. Robert Shuford, with assistance from Nan Hunter, used the file to code the Nicaraguan parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Ronald H. McDonald was our consultant.
2. Indeed, the Sandinistas succeeded in toppling the Somoza regime in July 1979 and headed the junta that governed afterward.