Nicaraguan Ortega seeks re-election in contested vote – NBC Connecticut


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was running for a fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s elections against a squad of little-known candidates while those who could have challenged him were in prison.

Voting was orderly and swift as voters noted the absence of long lines at more than 13,000 polling stations across the country. Voting closed on Sunday evening with no reported incident. But US President Joe Biden sharply criticized the vote as a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and certainly not democratic.”

The period leading up to the vote was more eventful. The opposition denounced new arrests of its leaders and activists across the country on the eve of the elections. On Sunday, Ortega denounced the alleged interference by the United States.

The opposition had called on Nicaraguans to stay at home to protest an electoral process which was strongly criticized as not credible by foreign powers.

The election will determine who will hold the presidency for the next five years, as well as 90 of the 92 seats in Congress and Nicaragua’s representation in the Central American Parliament. More than 4.4 million Nicaraguans aged 16 and over were eligible to vote.

The Ortega Sandinista Front and its allies control the Congress and all government institutions. Ortega was first president from 1985 to 1990, before returning to power in 2007. He recently declared his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, his “co-president”.

In June, police arrested seven potential presidential candidates on charges that amount to essentially treason. They remained in detention on election day. Some two dozen other opposition leaders were also swept away ahead of the election.

The other candidates in Sunday’s poll were little-known politicians from minor parties considered friends with the Ortega Sandinista Front.

The Blue and White National Union, an opposition alliance, on Saturday issued an alert after at least eight of its leaders were “kidnapped by the regime in illegal raids” on Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Civic Alliance, another opposition coalition, reported “harassment, surveillance, intimidation, assaults, attacks, illegal and arbitrary detentions” of some of its leaders around Nicaragua.

Police and military chiefs said the vote went off without incident.

Voting throughout the morning seemed to be calm and without long lines.

Voter Mayela Rodríguez found her local voting center in a school in Managua practically empty. “In the last few years it was really full,” she said. “Before, you had to (wait) in a long line to come here and now, empty.”

At around noon, Ortega spoke live on television after the vote – he lifted his inked finger.

He lambasted the United States for meddling in Nicaragua, noted that there had been allegations of fraud in the last American elections, recalled that those who stormed the United States Capitol were labeled terrorists and remain imprisoned. He reiterated his claim that the US government supported massive protests in Nicaragua in April 2018, which he called an attempted coup.

“They have as much right as we do to open cases against terrorists,” Ortega said.

“The vast majority of Nicaraguans vote for peace and not for war or terrorism,” he said.

In a statement released near the close of the poll, Biden called the process “rigged” and said the United States would use the tools at its disposal to hold the Nicaraguan government to account.

“The Ortega and Murillo family now rule Nicaragua as autocrats, no different from the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago,” Biden said.

One of the first to vote on Sunday was Foreign Minister Denis Moncada at a high school in the capital.

“The majority of Nicaraguans will elect Commander Daniel (Ortega), Comrade Rosario (Murillo) and MPs today,” Moncada told pro-government media.

He said the peaceful vote sends a message to world powers that “Nicaraguans are worthy patriots and we will not bow to their threats, sanctions and non-recognition of the elections.”

Presidential candidate Guillermo Osorno from the small Christian Path party voted on Sunday morning. He promised that if he defeated Ortega, he would “change the electoral system” and allow election observers.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, hundreds of Nicaraguans living in exile protested against Ortega’s government, calling Sunday’s vote an “electoral circus” and demanding the release of political prisoners.

“We are protesting against fraud and demanding justice for those killed,” said Kevin Monzón, a young influencer who fled to Costa Rica in late September after receiving threats.

With little doubt as to the outcome of the presidential election, attention is already turning to the international response as Ortega seeks to tighten his grip on power.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on those close to Ortega, but Ortega only responded by arresting more of his opponents.

A senior US State Department official on Friday, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the US government was willing to consider additional targeted sanctions, but had tried to avoid measures that would have a wider impact on the Nicaraguan people.

“It’s very difficult when you have a government that has very minimal goals, including staying in power at all costs and ignoring the will of its own citizens or the needs of citizens to retain that power,” the official said.

The Organization of American States will hold its annual general meeting in Guatemala later this week. Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico were among seven countries that abstained last month from passing an OAS resolution condemning the crackdown in Nicaragua.

The Supreme Electoral Council said the first partial results would be released around midnight. Provisional vote totals were expected on Monday.

Some 30,000 police and soldiers were deployed to secure the vote, according to the government.

International observers present during the last Nicaraguan elections were not present.

Instead, the government accredited 232 “fellow voters,” mostly from leftist governments and parties.

Among them was Dmitry Novikov, representative of the Russian Duma. He visited several polling stations and said at a press conference that he had observed “respect for the principle of non-interference” and criticized European leaders who questioned the election.

Gerardo Berthin, director of Latin America and the Caribbean programs for the democracy-promoting organization Freedom House, said on Sunday that the vote was proceeding as planned by Ortega.

“That’s what they want in terms of showing people who vote, even though we know they have lists of people who work for the government and they check who’s going and who isn’t,” he said. declared Berthin.


Associated Press editors Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Javier Cordoba in San Jose, Costa Rica contributed to this report.

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