The Return of the Left in Nicaragua: Citizen Power Councils, Pro-Poor Social Services and Regime Consolidation

45 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2010 Last revised: 15 Aug 2010

See all articles by Kelly Bay

Kelly Bay

Political Science, Brown University; Institute for Public Service, Seattle University

Date Written: 2010


For the first time since the fall of the Sandinistas’ socialist regime in 1990, the FSLN’s long-time leader, Daniel Ortega, reassumed the presidency in January 2007. Ortega’s main strategy for both social service delivery and regime consolidation is the newly created Citizen Power Councils or CPC. Each neighborhood and municipality throughout the country elects sixteen CPC members to identify beneficiaries of government social programs and employment, to disseminate government information and to communicate local needs directly to President Ortega. Although participation in the CPC is officially open to all Nicaraguans, critics claim that membership is heavily partisan in practice and serves to centralize Ortega’s power by circumventing other levels of government and by creating clientelistic linkages between the President and the people.

What explains sub-national variation in who participates and how they participate in the CPC? In other words, why is the CPC viewed as legitimate and influential in some municipalities and not in others? Moreover, what are the consequences of the CPC for Leftist regime consolidation?

Based on ethnographic, interview and archival data collected over ten months of dissertation fieldwork this paper analyzes the experiences of CPC members, government beneficiaries and political opponents within and across three politically distinct municipalities. I find that legacies of bipartisan conflict and cooperation best explain whether members of the opposition are excluded from the CPC. In most localities, the opposition and moderate Sandinistas are either excluded or choose not to participate. Moreover, in Right Strongholds, the mayor poses a formidable obstacle to the CPC agenda. These findings suggest that more attention be paid to local politics in the study of populism, electoral-authoritarianism and the New Left in Latin America. Even though a populist leader may control all other levels of government, local politics can provide a powerful barrier to the consolidation of electoral-authoritarian regimes.

Keywords: New Left, Participatory Governance, Direct Democracy, Citizen Power Councils, Nicaragua

JEL Classification: H11, H53, I31

Suggested Citation

Bay, Kelly, The Return of the Left in Nicaragua: Citizen Power Councils, Pro-Poor Social Services and Regime Consolidation (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Kelly Bay (Contact Author)

Political Science, Brown University ( email )

Box 1844
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Institute for Public Service, Seattle University ( email )

900 Broadway
Seattle, WA 98122
United States

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