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Violeta Chamorro called it a "democratic fiesta," the long, hot ceremony during which Daniel Ortega relinquished the presidency.

It was an altogether extraordinary inauguration - or "toma de posesion" (taking possession) as the tickets called it. Held at the National Stadium in the presence of the world press and representatives from a dozen foreign governments, it featured the active participation of Sandinista and UNO activists.The inauguration marked the acceptance by Sandinistas of democratic elections as the basis of government legitimacy. This alone made it a remarkable occasion. Until recently, Sandinistas have claimed that their leadership of "the revolution" gave them all the right they needed to permanent power.

It was perhaps to recall this other claim that most of the Sandinista commandantes showed up in military uniform for the inauguration. But Daniel Ortega, who has learned many lessons of image politics, arrived carrying a baby and wearing a dark red open-collared shirt with a Sandinista kerchief around his neck. His trim, jeans-clad wife and numerous children were at his side. He presented the very model of young civilian leadership.

Carefully, Chamorro embraced both Ortegas and each of their children, while reminding watchers that she has known "Daniel" most of his life. Like Nicaragua's Cardinal Obando y Bravo, she is well acquainted with all the commandantes , because Nicaragua is a small country, and because they were all allies in the fight to bring down Anastasio Somoza. Neither the cardinal nor Chamorro is a hater. Both are eager to get on with the business of national reconciliation.

But the many embraces could not hide the deep political cleavages that divide Nicaraguans.

The long speeches of Ortega and Chamorro were a study in clashing political symbols, philosophies and styles.

Ortega's speech was structured around the long rhetorical questions, self-evident answers and escalating charges made famous by Fidel Castro. The revolution was still present in his speech, but so was a new claim: That the Sandinistas brought democracy to Nicaragua. As Ortega sees it, the Sandinista revolution succeeded because it ended Somosizmo . It made the Sandinistas the principal democratic force in Nicaragua. Sandinista opponents are mainly Somosistas. The Contras are North American mercenaries and dupes. The economy failed because of the U.S. boycott.

In Ortega's speech there were no apologies, no regrets. As he sees it, in voting for UNO Nicaraguans did not reject "the revolution." They simply voted for "peace" - for Contra demobilization and an end to the American embargo.

For Violeta Chamorro, Nicaraguan democracy began with the elections of Feb. 25 and proceeds under a guardian angel - Santa Libertad (St. Liberty). The decade of Sandinista rule was part of the 100 years of dictatorship through which Nicaraguans longed for democracy. Now, Chamorro emphasized, Nicaraguans are determined that "never again" will the people permit tyrants to impose themselves upon the nation. Now policies can be adopted which will reverse the damage of "the revolution." Now there can be an end to regulations that stifle the economy and policies that foment war and exile.

She promised unconditional amnesty, deregulation, demilitarization, and emphasized national reconciliation. But it was clear even during the inauguration that reconciliation would not be easy. The opponents of the Sandinistas are already divided among themselves.

Chamorro's decision to retain in her cabinet Sandinista Defense Chief Humberto Ortega split the shaky coalition of 14 parties in whose name (UNO) Chamorro campaigned. It precipitated three resignations from her planned cabinet and widespread charges that she is already bypassing the parties in favor of a highly personal, familial style of decisionmaking involving close family members as principal counselors.

Listening to Nicaraguans discuss the Chamorro presidency, one realizes how quickly a traditional schismatic, familial style of politics has reasserted itself in post-revolutionary Nicaragua.

For a decade, Nicaragua was a battlefield in a global struggle - with Karl Marx postage stamps, swarms of "internacionalistas" , totalitarian aspirations and maximum participation in the "world Socialist revolution."

Now it is only a small, poor Central American country whose meager public resources have been depleted by profligate policies and hurried plundering during the Sandinistas' last weeks in power, as they appropriated for themselves and their party the vehicles, typewriters and light fixtures of the government offices.

Violeta Chamorro's minister for economic affairs said to me that Chamorro's crutches, which she uses while a broken leg mends, are a good symbol of Nicaragua's condition - damaged, in need of a helping hand, but courageous and capable of recovery.