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Nicaragua’s Ortega wins third straight term, wife is vice-president


Managua, Nicaragua | AFP |

Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega has won a third straight term, with his colorful wife Rosario Murillo as vice president, near-final results showed Monday, after an election condemned by the opposition and the United States.

With 99.8 percent of ballots counted, the 70-year-old former Marxist rebel had 72.5 percent of the vote, the country’s Supreme Electoral Council said.

His nearest competitor, Maximino Rodriguez of the right-leaning Liberal Constitutionalist Party, had just 15 percent.

Ortega, who has ruled Nicaragua for 20 of the past 37 years, has been accused of being behind judicial maneuvers to limit the power of the opposition.

His opponents branded the election a “farce” — a criticism echoed by the United States, which said the “flawed” process had made free and fair polls impossible.

“The Nicaraguan government sidelined opposition candidates for president, limited domestic observation at the polls… and took other actions to deny democratic space,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

“The decision by the Nicaraguan government not to invite independent international electoral observers further degraded the legitimacy of the election.”

With the opposition urging Ortega opponents to boycott Sunday’s vote, all eyes were on turnout.

Electoral officials said 68.2 percent of voters cast ballots, though the opposition gave a much lower estimate.

Rejection of results 

“We don’t recognize the results of this farce,” Violeta Granera, head of one of the opposition parties, the Broad Front of Democracy, told reporters before the tally.

She said the opposition had calculated turnout at less than 30 percent.

Men armed with machetes and clubs set fire to one polling station in a rural area 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of Managua.

Ortega has controversially proposed building a transoceanic canal through the area, to rival Panama’s.

But government and electoral officials described the elections as a great exercise in democracy, conducted in “calm.”

“It’s a vote for peace, for the security of the Nicaraguan people,” Ortega said after casting his ballot.

By his side, Murillo said the polling was “exemplary.”

Ortega has strong support from Nicaragua’s poor.

They account for more than a third of the population and have benefited from his social programs.

Ortega’s supporters poured into the streets to celebrate, honking their car horns and waving white and blue Nicaraguan flags.

“We expect him to keep fulfilling his promises, to keep giving us food and housing,” one supporter, Maria Auxiliadora Monte, told AFP.

“He is the best president we have had.”

Nicaragua’s powerful business interests have also been well-served by economic stability and security under Ortega and his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

But with billions of dollars in credit from troubled ally Venezuela drying up, and massive infrastructure projects — such as the proposed canal — failing to materialize, Nicaragua’s prospects are clouding over.

Fourth mandate 

It will be Ortega’s fourth mandate.

He has served two consecutive terms since 2007, and previously ruled between 1979 and 1990, when his Sandinista rebels emerged victorious from a revolution that toppled the dictatorial Somoza dynasty.

The opposition now accuses Ortega and Murillo of launching a dynasty of their own.

The eccentric first lady already plays a prominent role as the government’s spokeswoman, and is seen as possibly taking over as president in the future.

With Ortega increasingly reluctant to make public appearances, his 65-year-old wife has stepped up — wearing trademark colorful dresses and ostentatious jewelry — as the administration’s daily face.

“The practice of ‘couples in power’ is not exclusive to Nicaragua,” Veronica Rueda Estrada, a Nicaragua expert and professor at Mexico’s Quintana Roo University, told AFP.

She called to mind Cristina Kirchner, who succeeded her husband Nestor Kirchner as president of Argentina, and Hillary Clinton in the United States.

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