The election here is over, and no one has been holding his breath as to whether the Sandinistas won. But hopes for a continued political dialogue between the ruling Sandinistas and the political opposition have not been abandoned. And both Nicaraguan opposition leaders and watching diplomats say that a Cuban-type clampdown on political activity is not expected.
Indeed, they add, the very election of Daniel Ortega Saavedra - head of the moderate faction within the Sandinistas and brother of fellow directorate member and Army chief Humberto Ortega Saavedra - is seen here as leaving the relatively ''dovish'' faction of the Sandinistas with the upper hand in the government and military structure.
That, and the apparently efficient handling of the actual election day processes, comprise the plus side of the political ledger here.
On the other side of the ledger is the fact that the two main opposition leaders withdrew from the election charging that they were harassed and prevented from making their case during the early stages of the campaign. Efforts to reach an agreement on postponing the election failed. Censorship was largely removed only during the latter stages of the campaign.
Foreign electoral observers here are stressing that although the non-participation of the two major opposition parties robbed the election of much of its importance, the process did have some significance. The opening up of the political system which occurred during the latter part of the campaign, they say, has been an important one. After more than five years of Sandinista rule, Nicaraguan readers daily read scathing attacks on the government in La Prensa, the opposition newspaper.
Much of the hopes for anything positive coming out of the electoral process rests in the dialogue which the Sandinistas began last week with the opposition. It is scheduled to resume today.
The dialogue is crucial because, as one opposition leader interviewed by the Monitor said, the main point of the election was not to try to take over power from the Sandinistas but rather to reach a social pact which would heal the splits in society and restore confidence that even though the Sandinistas maintained their hegemony, the country would not turn into another Cuba.
The importance of the dialogue was also stressed by a key opposition leader, Virgilia Godoy Reyes, head of the Independent Liberal Party. After Arturo Cruz Porras's group, the Liberal Party was the major political movement to pull out of the election.
''I believe that the dialogue could possibly bring about the social pact which the elections did not,'' Mr. Godoy said. ''I believe it because the Sandinistas are faced with immense political and economic problems and that they need the pact and I think that the dialogue will be the last chance to do so.''
The deep economic and political problems confronting the Sandinistas, and their fear of what President Reagan would do in a second term, persuade most Western diplomats and other analysts that the Sandinistas may well be forced ultimately to come to some arrangement with the opposition.
Another factor lies in the dynamics of internal Sandinista politics. A hard-line view was expressed in a now notorious speech in which Bayardo Arce, one of the nine Sandinista comandantes and a leader of the radical GPP faction, gave last April. Mr. Arce said that the main goal of the elections would be to establish a constitution which would serve as the basis for a completely Socialist (ie. communist) state.
This line has also been supported by some radical mid- and low-level Sandinistas. They have gone around the country spreading rumors that after Nov. 4, ''accounts will be settled'' and that there will be a crackdown on all the enemies of the Sandinistas. Opposition leaders dismiss this talk as preelectoral scare tactics.
The basic reason observers discount a further radicalization now is the ascendancy of Daniel Ortega and his brother, Humberto. As one left-wing opposition leader with close ties to the top Sandinista leadership put it, ''In recent months there have been more and more signs that Daniel and Humberto want to negotiate with both their internal opposition and the United States. Therefore, I have some hopes for the dialogue.''
This opposition leader stressed that because of their political and economic difficulties, the Sandinistas have had to make one concession after another from their original plans. They never planned, he said, to hold elections, but were forced to do so. They would have wanted to shut down La Prensa long ago, but couldn't. They may not originally have planned to make a social pact, but they will have to.
This source says that another factor pressing Ortega to move quickly to consolidate his power and make arrangements internally and with the US is that he knows that his harder line colleagues in the GPP would like to see a military confrontation in Central America and believe that guerrilla warfare throughout the region would ultimately bring about the triumph of the revolution.
Finally, this leader says, there are more and more signs that real power will pass to the Ortegas, but that the main question is: Will this be done quietly, or will the Sandinistas in the next year or two face an open split?
The only important United States group of observers to come down to Nicaragua was headed by Rep. James Shannon (D) of Mass., former Rep. Charles Whalen (R) of Ohio, and former deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America Ben Stephanski. The preliminary report of these unofficial observers, while making criticisms of the flaws in the campaign, put it this way:
''We believe that the Nicaraguan electoral process, with all its faults was meaningful. The process permitted a political opening. For the first time in 41/ 2 years, parties organized legally and expressed open criaticsm of the government. This opening permitted the various parties to educate the Nicaraguan people through meetings and access to the media about the various future courses available to Nicaragua. This opening, however, must be built upon, if it is to have long-term significance.''