Nicaraguan church leaders marked the formal beginning of their country's election campaign by calling on politicians to do more than make empty promises.

Presidential candidates should "make a commitment to the people of Nicaragua that goes beyond electoral promises, avoiding both verbal and physical violence," stated the Council of Evangelical Churches (CEPAD), in a letter issued on August 14.

CEPAD has 42 denominations in membership, together representing more than half of the country's Evangelicals and Protestants.

The council's letter was addressed to the three presidential candidates in the elections, which are scheduled for Nov. 4. Besides choosing a new president and vice president, Nicaraguan voters will also elect 90 deputies to the country's national assembly, as well as 20 representatives to the regional Central American parliament.

Although the campaign officially got underway on 18 August, election rallies have been taking place for months, marked by bitter rhetoric and outbreaks of violence.

Polls show former President Daniel Ortega, the candidate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, enjoying a slim lead over Enrique Bolanos, the current vice president and candidate of the ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party. Running a distant third is Conservative Party candidate Alberto Saborio.

Only three candidates are running for president. A controversial agreement last year between the Liberals and Sandinistas made it almost impossible for smaller parties to participate in elections. As a result, the Christian Path, an Evangelical party whose candidate took third place in the 1996 presidential elections, is supporting Bolanos. A newer Evangelical party, the Movement for Christian Unity, supports the Sandinistas.

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