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Daniel Ortega
Daniel Ortega
Image: AP Photo/Esteban Felix

Ortega on course to retain Nicaraguan presidency amid observers' concern

Ortega is seeking a third term as leader of Central America’s poorest country.
Nov 7th 2011, 7:33 AM 78 1

ONE-TIME SANDINISTA revolutionary Daniel Ortega took a big early lead in presidential elections yesterday, amid reports of protests and international observers being blocked from voting stations.

Ortega, the incumbent and heavy favourite, had 66 per cent of the votes compared to 25 per cent for his nearest challenger, Fabio Gadea. Conservative Arnoldo Aleman, a former president, was a distant third with 7 per cent.

The result came with roughly 7 per cent of the votes counted, but electoral council President Roberto Rivas said a quick count representative of the entire vote gave Ortega a large advantage as well. The methodology of the quick count was not immediately available, however.

The ruling Sandinista party declared victory and caravans of thousands of supporters flooded the streets shouting “Daniel! Daniel!”

International election observers reported problems with access to voting stations and with one national group of observers, Let’s Have Democracy, reporting 600 complaints of voting irregularities, a handful of injuries in protests and 30 arrests.

Observers denied

The head of the Organisation of American States observer mission, Dante Caputo, said its observers were been denied access to 10 polling stations, which would account for 20 percent of the statistical material they had planned to collect for their analysis.

“They have prevented our people from being there at the precise moment they should have been there and that is not remediable and will affect our ability to do our jobs,” Caputo said. “We are navigating without radar.”

The European Union said some of its teams also had problems but that they eventually were resolved and they were allowed access, according Luis Yanis, head of the mission.

The Ortega government, meanwhile, reported smooth voting in 90 per cent of the country.

“We have seen a civil day of voting,” Rivas said during a news conference, emphasizing the lack of violence and calling it the cleanest Nicaraguan election had had observed in recent years.

Gadea, who went into election day trailing Ortega in the polls by 18 points, thanked voters in a brief press conference for coming out en masse.

“The attempt to discourage voting and create difficulties has failed,” said Gadea of the Liberal Independent Party. “No one or nothing will alter the will of the people.”

Popular

Since returning to power in 2007, the 65-year-old Ortega has boosted his popularity in Central America’s poorest country with a combination of pork-barrel populism and support for the free-market economy he once opposed.

He seeks a third term — his second consecutive one — after the Sandinista majority on the Supreme Court overruled the term limits set by the Nicaraguan constitution.

His opponents fear that if he wins more than 50 percent of the vote, it will allow him to change the constitution to run in perpetuity.

The independent Let’s Have Democracy reported problems in various municipalities located between 50 and 70 miles outside of the capital of Managua. Besides injuries and arrests, observers reported a polling place set on fire, election officials obstructing voters from opposing parties and protests by voters who didn’t receive their credentials.

The sporadic incidents didn’t seem widespread enough to throw the official results into question. But it was unclear whether the OAS would question the results because of lack of access to polling stations.

Claims of widespread fraud in the 2008 municipal elections led Washington to cancel $62 million in development aid.

Nicaragua’s 2006 election drew more than 18,000 observers. This time election observation is much more difficult and local observers were denied credentials. The OAS and the European Union negotiated access to Sunday’s vote, but the Georgia-based Carter Center decided not to observe because of the restrictions.

Ortega led the Sandinista movement that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, and withstood a concerted effort by the U.S. government, which viewed him as a Soviet-backed threat, to oust him through a rebel force called the Contras.

The fiery, mustachioed leftist ruled through a junta, then was elected in 1984 but was defeated after one term in 1990. After two more failed runs, he softened his rhetoric, took a free-market stance, and regained the presidency in the 2006 election.

Ortega poised to win third term in Nicaragua >

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Associated Press

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