AT the conclusion of Nicaragua's voter registration process last fall, Sandinista officials boasted that 1.75 million people, or almost 90 percent of the Nicaraguan electorate, registered to vote. They should not have been so modest. Examination of Nicaragua's demographics reveals registration was at least 112.9 percent. Under Sandinista electoral law, all Nicaraguans who were 16 or older on or before Oct. 23, 1989, will be permitted to participate in the Feb. 25 balloting. Official Sandinista estimates put the total number of eligible voters at 1.97 million. But that figure stands in stark contrast to population data.
An examination of Sandinista estimates makes it possible to virtually predict the results of the February election.
Based on Nicaragua's 1970 census figures, its 1980 midyear census estimate, and various other authoritative population projections, the population of Nicaragua as of Oct. 23, 1973, could have been no more than 2.1 million people.
That figure would represent the total number of eligible voters in next February's electoral contest, provided that none of the 2.1 million people died or left the country. This, however, is simply not the case. Consider:
The current average crude death rate per annum in the Central American region is approximately eight per 1,000. Based on that rate, we can assume that some 350,000 Nicaraguans died in the past 16 years. This figure does not reflect the extraordinary cost in human lives of the 1977-79 revolution and its aftermath, the Sandinista/contra war, or Hurricane Joan, making the estimate very conservative indeed. (Recall, for example, that in the waning days of the Somoza dictatorship, government helicopters conducted indiscriminate bombardment of the eastern barrios of Managua, an area dense in population that was believed to be a Sandinista stronghold.)
Nevertheless, if only half of the people who died over the past 16 years would have been eligible voters in the 1990 contest, the number of actual eligible voters would be reduced to approximately 1,925,000, which is over 50,000 less than the official government estimate of eligible voters.
The number of eligible voters for next February's election has been further reduced by Nicaraguans fleeing their homeland. Even by the most conservative estimates, three-quarters of a million people have left Nicaragua for safe havens in Honduras, Costa Rica, the United States, or elsewhere since 1979. The New York Times estimates that there are over 150,000 Nicaraguan exiles in Miami alone, and there are substantial Nicaraguan exile communities in Los Angeles, New York, and Houston, to name only a few. Honduras has been home to hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan refugees.
Former US ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, has estimated the number of Nicaraguan refugees to exceed 1 million. Using the most conservative estimate of the number of exiles and designating just 50 percent of them as existing as of Oct. 23, 1973, the actual number of eligible voters in Nicaragua currently would be no more than 1,550,000, which is 420,000 less than the official Sandinista figure.
There are a number of possible explanations for the discrepancy between the Sandinista electoral figures and population data: Nicaraguans under the age of 16 may have been permitted to vote; dead Nicaraguans may have been registered (presumably, without their permission); Sandinista electoral officials may have simply padded the election rolls; or a combination of the above. Another possibility is that Nicaragua's voting population has been augmented by Cubans and/or Salvadoran rebels.
Significantly, Sandinista Vice Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco recently admitted that there are over 200,000 Salvadorans living in Nicaragua.
One thing is certain. The Sandinista junta would not create over 420,000 voting slots, equal to 24 percent of the total registrants, if they did not intend to use them to their advantage.
The Sandinista party need only garner an additional 26 percent of the vote to win the election. Presumably, the significant control the Sandinistas exercise over Sandinista technocrats and voters employed by the military and the state security apparatus, coupled with a strong dose of intimidation against would-be opposition supporters, is more than enough to guarantee a Sandinista victory. A Sandinista victory is a fait accompli.