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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.

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Mr. Gadea’s campaign manager, Eliseo Nuñez, says the preliminary vote count by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is “totally unreal.” He claims there was “shameless electoral theft in Managua.”

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Election monitors are also questioning the polling process. Electoral watchdog Ethics and Transparency says yesterday’s general elections failed to meet the minimum international requirements to be considered a credible and transparent process.

“For the first time in more than 20 years we had an election that failed” from a technical point of view, said Roberto Courtney, executive director of Ethics and Transparency, the Nicaraguan affiliate of Transparency International. The group says official poll watchers from the opposition PLI alliance were denied entry in “at least 15-20 percent of voting stations,” meaning the Sandinistas and their allies were left counting the votes by themselves. “There are no guarantees that the vote counting will reflect public will,” Mr. Courtney said.

Though the electoral tribunal denied Ethics and Transparency accreditation for political reasons, the watchdog monitored the elections anyway and declared the process a failed election before the first results were announced. “We are obligated to declare that this electoral process was not fair, honest or credible,” reads the group’s final statement.

The team of election monitors from the Organization of American States (OAS) also denounced a lack of transparency in the process. The OAS mission said it was denied entry to 20 percent of polling stations they visited.

Edmundo Jarquín, vice-presidential candidate for the PLI, says the problems experienced by international election observers will cast doubt on the election results.

“In the past, irregularities were an exception. Now irregularities are the norm,” Mr. Jarquín says.

There were also reports of bouts of violence, voter intimidation, and deliberate confusion of the process. Voting stations or electoral materials were burned in 16 parts of the country in protest.

But the Sandinistas and the CSE claimed the elections were exemplary in their peacefulness and orderliness. CSE president Roberto Rivas said he thought the election was the “most tranquil” polling process he’s ever seen in Nicaragua. He blamed the PLI for trying to cause “disorder” and “prevent people from voting.”

Nicaragua's standing diminished?

Despite Ortega’s apparent victory, which was predicted by all the polls, it could further tarnish his already checkered image abroad, making his political strength very provincial.

“All of the uncertainties that have been raised reflects a system that badly needs reform,” says Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program for the Carter Center. The Carter Center did not officially observe Sunday’s due to the excessive and unclear conditions demanded by the CSE, but Ms. McCoy came anyway to watch the elections unofficially.

While the international reaction to Ortega’s apparent victory will not be known for another few days, it will be interesting to see what international dignitaries come to Nicaragua on Jan. 10, 2012, to celebrate the Sandinista leader’s controversial third term. With Chávez and Fidel Castro unlikely to make the trip, attendance could be slim.

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