WHEN Violeta Chamorro is sworn in tomorrow, she will hold the title of president of the state of Nicaragua. With skill and tact, courage and resourcefulness, sound advice and reciprocated good will, she may actually become, in time, the president of the people of Nicaragua. Mrs. Chamorro earned the title by her convincing electoral victory on Feb. 25. She will earn the position only if she can govern effectively, and for all Nicaraguans.
The challenges before her are daunting. The economy is in shambles after a decade of war and collectivist experimentation, the bitterness and distrust left from the contra war are deep, and the powerful Sandinista military still looms over the civilian government.
Yet Chamorro assumes office with some notable strengths. With her triumph in a free and fair election, she stands on solid bedrock of political legitimacy. The civil war appears, truly and finally, to be over. The contras have assembled in demobilization zones in Nicaragua, and, simultaneously with Chamorro's inauguration, they will start surrendering their arms to a UN buffer force. The Sandinistas are handing over power peacefully.
Three primary tasks face Chamorro. First, through delicate, persistent negotiations, she must reach a working accommodation with the military. Civilian-military tensions have been virtually a defining characteristic of Latin American politics. Chamorro may not be able to achieve full control over the military, but she must cause the government to become a viable check on the military as a power center.
Second, she must revitalize the economy. She has capable economic advisers who recognize the need to push Nicaragua in a free-market direction. But they must show some results fairly quickly, and yet find ways to ease the economic and social pain of austerity.
Chamorro's third task, a political one, is twofold. She must forge a functioning government out of a motley coalition of 17 parties that was held together chiefly by opposition to the Sandinistas. Beyond that, though, and more important, she will have to start a process of national reconciliation and healing that reaches beyond her own followers to pull in all Nicaraguans.
This means, in part, acknowledging and preserving those elements of the Sandinista revolution that many Nicaraguans take pride in. Some of those elements are tangible - better education and health care, for instance. Others are intangible - a heightened national identity and the shared national self-esteem that came from asserting popular power to overthrow a brutal dictator.
Nicaragua's political opposition - and even most contras - were not engaged in a ``counterrevolution.'' They didn't want to turn back the clock to pre-1979. They sought to recover a revolution that had been hijacked by Sandinista radicals. This fact, and political actions based thereon, may act as a unifying force to bring Nicaraguans together.