President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro's political coalition Saturday rejected her candidate to head the new National Assembly and chose instead a woman who is less conciliatory toward the defeated Sandinista government.
By a 28-23 vote that reflected a deep rift in the National Opposition Union, the coalition's newly elected deputies chose Myriam Arguello over Chamorro's chief political strategist, Alfredo Cesar, as their nominee to preside over the 92-seat Assembly.
Because the coalition's 14 parties agreed in advance to accept the nominating vote as binding, Arguello, a 63-year-old Conservative lawyer, is assured of winning the legislative post when the new Assembly convenes for the first time Tuesday. The Sandinista-dominated Assembly elected in 1984 met for the last time Saturday.
Arguello's first act as Assembly president will be to accept the formal handing over of power that day from President Daniel Ortega, whose police made her an anti-Sandinista hero by arresting her during a political demonstration in July, 1988, and jailing her for more than five months.
On Wednesday, she will transfer presidential powers to Chamorro, upset winner in the Feb. 25 elections, during a ceremony at Managua's main baseball stadium. Vice President Dan Quayle and at least eight Latin American presidents are due to attend.
Chamorro is expected to name her Cabinet and announce changes in the Sandinista-led army Monday. Those decisions will be strongly influenced by a close circle of family advisers headed by her son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, and by Cesar, who is married to Lacayo's sister.
Throughout the two-month transition, both men have worked to reach compromises with the Sandinistas for the sake of a peaceful transition. They helped forge a definitive cease-fire with the U.S.-backed Contras on Thursday and an earlier transition accord to preserve the "integrity and hierarchy" of the all-Sandinista army officer corps.
Chamorro's reliance on those advisers has put her in conflict with Vice President-elect Virgilio Godoy and the coalition's 14-member political council, who favor a harder line against the Sandinistas and fear being excluded from a major role in her administration.
Cesar, 38, who served the Sandinista government as central bank president before going into exile in 1982 to become a civilian Contra leader, has been a particular target of controversy because of his aggressive style and unconcealed presidential ambitions.
The nomination of an Assembly president brought tensions within Chamorro's alliance into the open. In an all-day public meeting, with Godoy presiding, the 51 deputies traded bitter words.
Roberto Moreno, a labor leader, accused Cesar of having distributed literature for his own Assembly candidacy while locking up "tons of material" printed for other candidates. Eli Altamirano, a Communist Party leader, called Cesar "a political divorcee" from the 14-party bloc.
Opponents of Arguello said she would make compromise with the Assembly's Sandinista minority more difficult. Her supporters emphasized that, unlike Cesar, she had never joined the Sandinistas and had stayed in Nicaragua to oppose them. They said that, as an outsider to Chamorro's circle, she would better guarantee the independence of the legislative branch.
"We don't have to worry that she is going to fight (with Chamorro) because we women understand each other," said Julia Mena, a deputy from Godoy's Liberal Independent Party. "With Dona Violeta and Dona Myriam, we are going to democratize Nicaragua."