Daniel Ortega appears set to win presidential election in Nicaragua
But critics say that Daniel Ortega's overwhelming electoral win, of dubious constitutionality and marred by irregularities, will only serve to underscore Nicaragua's autocratic government.
Sandinistas took to the streets jubilantly in the early morning hours Monday to celebrate what appears to be a resounding victory in the legally questionable reelection campaign of President Daniel Ortega.Skip to next paragraph
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A preliminary vote count announced Monday morning at 2 a.m., with 16 percent of the ballots tallied, shows the Sandinista strongman leading with 63 percent, followed by octogenarian radio producer Fabio Gadea, with 29 percent. Former President Arnoldo Alemán is in third place, with 6 percent. A final vote count will be announced today at noon.
The preliminary results for National Assembly are similar, meaning that, if the numbers hold, Mr. Ortega will win a majority in the legislature and essentially take full control over all branches of Nicaragua’s government – despite ongoing doubts that his election to a third term is legal under Nicaragua's Constitution.
For a man whose political career seemed washed up a decade ago – he had lost three consecutive election bids (1990, 1996, 2001), was accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter and was reportedly teetering on the edge of financial hardship – the Sandinista leader’s comeback is nothing short of stunning. Not only does he have more political power now than he did in the 1980s, when he led the Sandinista revolutionary government as “the first among equals,” but he’s also now thought to be of the wealthiest individuals in Central America, thanks to his private investment of some $2 billion in Venezuelan aid over the past five years.
Ortega’s handling of Hugo Chávez’s largess has allowed certain Sandinistas to become part of Nicaragua’s nouveau riche, invested heavily in multiple sectors of the economy, from energy production and oil distribution to timber, cattle, agriculture, tourism, and media.
While Ortega’s political and economic positions appear stronger than ever, critics claim they are built on rickety foundations. In Ortega’s continued quest for power, they say, he’s seriously undermining the country’s democratic institutions.
Even Ortega’s candidacy was cause for international concern. Many argued that his reelection bid was strictly prohibited by Article 147 of Nicaragua’s Constitution, which states that a sitting president cannot be reelected to a consecutive term or to more than two terms. A new term for Ortega would be his third, and his second in a row. But a ruling by Sandinista judges allowed the former revolutionary to sidestep the constitutional bar.
Luis Yañez, chief of mission for the EU’s election observation team, said European leaders have their doubts about the democratic process in Nicaragua, but decided to observe the elections once the other candidates agreed to run and made it a “competitive situation.”
“We know in great detail the polemic regarding the pretentions of President Daniel Ortega to become a candidate when the Constitution apparently doesn’t allow that. And we have watched with worry as Nicaragua’s internal process ended up approving his candidacy without any possibility for legal recourse. That alone probably would have impeded us from coming here as a mission of electoral observers, but the moment in which the other four parties and coalitions entered the electoral process to compete with Ortega, it became a competitive situation,” Mr. Yañez said.
A dubious election
From beginning to end, Sunday’s elections were a clear example of how Ortega’s apparent position of strength could actually be quite fragile. While Sandinistas celebrate their “overwhelming victory” in the streets, opponents claim it could be a Pyrrhic victory that exposes the undemocratic and autocratic nature of his government.