Sandinistas take an election blow

The withdrawal of opposition candidate Virgilio Godoy Reyes from the Nicaraguan election deals a blow to Sandinista attempts to obtain international recognition and legitimacy for their electoral process.

Mr. Godoy, who heads the Independent Labor Party, was the only major opposition leader still willing to take part in the elections after opposition leader Arturo Cruz Porras refused to register his candidacy in August. Godoy's party was allied with the Sandinistas and Godoy himself served as Nicaragua's minister of labor until early this year.

With the withdrawal of Godoy from the election, only Nicaragua's tiny communist parties and a few insignificant splinter groups will be opposing the Sandinistas in the scheduled Nov. 4 vote.

His decision to step out of the election will also greatly increase pressure on the Sandinistas to postpone the election, since without the participation of either Mr. Cruz or Godoy the vote will be seen almost universally as more of a well-orchestrated plebiscite on Sandinista rule than a democratic and fair election.

Godoy's withdrawal also increases pressure on the Contadora countries to call publicly on the Sandinistas to postpone the elections. The Contadora nations (Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia) have been acting as mediators in Central America, trying to work out a regional peace treaty.

Nicaraguan opposition groups say their position has been greatly strengthened by the Godoy withdrawal.

''The withdrawal of Godoy takes the last vestiges of credibility away from these elections,'' Cruz asserted in a telephone interview with the Monitor. ''If the Sandinistas don't agree to some sort of a political opening-up of their system, they will maintain Nicaragua in a state of constant perturbance and Nicaragua will eventually have all of Central America on top of it.''

Cruz said he believes the course on which the Sandinistas are embarked will eventually lead to an armed confrontation between Nicaragua and the rest of Central America.

Goday reportedly says that his party would not participate in elections because the Sandinistas have not provided for sufficient freedom of expression or enough freedom of organization and mobilization and because Nicaragua's leaders have refused to postpone the elections.

In talks over the past two weeks with the Contadora nations and the Socialist International, the Sandinistas have remained adamant in their refusal to postpone elections.

Several Latin sources close to the Sandinistas say that Nicaragua's leaders see several risks in any postponing of the vote.

One risk is that an extended campaign could make opposition leader Cruz better known among the population and thus provide a channel for popular discontent with the food shortages and the general unrest Nicaraguans have endured since the Sandinistas took power in 1979.

Whether an outright majority of the population is anti-Sandinista is not clear. In Central America there is a tradition of voting with the government in power, and the Sandinistas strongly control Nicaraguan society on the grass-roots level. Therefore, it is uncertain that the majority of Nicaraguans would overtly express discontent by voting against the government, even in relatively free elections.

Another risk is that a longer election campaign could shake some of the hold that Sandinista organizations have at the grass-roots level. Although the Sandinistas could probably win the election without cheating, even in an extended campaign, their margins of victory might be embarrassingly small.

On another level, the Sandinistas completely mistrust the intentions of the United States. They believe that the relatively ''soft'' US line taken by President Reagan's special envoy to Central America, Harry Shlaudeman, in recent talks with Nicaraguan Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Victor Hugo Tinoco and the US positive response to last week's government-guerrilla negotiations in El Salvador could change at any moment.

The Sandinistas think that if Mr. Reagan is reelected in November, the US might begin a concerted effort to overthrow them.

They fear that the US could use a prolonged electoral period in Nicaragua to organize a campaign of anti-Sandinista agitation. Documents like the recently leaked US Central Intelligence Agency manual on anti-Sandinista sabotage do nothing to reassure them.

Until now, most US and Central American observers have said that the rebel contras who are fighting the Sandinistas have been unable to overthrow Nicaragua's leader because they lack an urban base and because many Nicaraguans continue to view the contras as linked to the hated Somoza dictatorship.

The Sandinistas, according to informed sources, fear that ''respectable'' opposition groups under Arturo Cruz could ally themselves with the contras, providing a legitimacy that the contras have lacked, especially in urban areas. They fear that the opposition would, during a prolonged electoral campaign, bring the contras in ''through the back door.''

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