President Daniel Ortega overwhelmingly won re-election to a third consecutive term as Nicaragua’s leader according to results Monday, even as the opposition called the voting a farce.
With about two-thirds of ballots counted in Sunday’s six-candidate presidential race, Ortega had 72.1 percent of the vote compared with 14.2 for his closest rival.
Supreme Electoral Council chief Roberto Rivas announced the results and said they amounted to an irreversible trend favoring Ortega.
The president ran with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice presidential candidate in a race against five lesser-known candidates after court rulings weakened the opposition.
Critics of the government said the election was unfairly tilted against the opposition, but Murillo praised the process. Emerging with her husband after casting their ballots shortly before the polls closed, she called the vote “an exemplary, historic election.”
With the outcome of the vote clear, attention turned to disputed turnout figures in an election that Ortega’s opponents had urged people to boycott.
Rivas said about 66 percent of Nicaragua’s 3.8 million registered voters participated. But the main opposition movement, the Broad Front for Democracy, estimated “more than 70 percent” of voters did not cast ballots.
“Today the people of Nicaragua said, ‘Enough!'” the movement said in a statement.
Political analyst Bosco Matamoros estimated turnout was likely around 50 percent.
“Neither the results of the (electoral council) nor those of the opposition are acceptable because they don’t match reality,” Matamoros said. “And what they demonstrate is that we have a divided country that desperately needs a political understanding to keep this crisis from growing.”
Ortega and his leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front have benefited from the Central American country’s modest but steady economic growth and low levels of violence compared to neighboring Honduras and El Salvador.
Many Nicaraguans also cite the government’s social programs as a major reason for the party’s popularity.
But critics accused Ortega and his allies of manipulating the political system to guarantee he stayed in power for a new five-year term by dominating all branches of government, allowing indefinite presidential re-election and delegitimizing the only opposition force seen as capable of challenging him. They said he wants to form a political dynasty together with his wife.
“I don’t think it’s worth voting and wasting time, because it’s already fixed,” said Glenda Bendana, an appliance sales executive in a Managua shopping mall. “Here they have taken away not our right to vote, but to choose. Ortega wants to die in power and leave his wife to take his place.”
In July, the Electoral Council effectively decimated the opposition by ousting almost all its members from congress — 28 active and alternate legislators from the Liberal Independent Party and the allied Sandinista Renovation Movement — for refusing to recognize Pedro Reyes as their leader. Reyes was named head of the opposition by the Supreme Court but is seen by many as a tool of Ortega.
After helping topple the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza as a Sandinista guerrilla leader, Ortega ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and then lost power in an unexpected electoral defeat. He returned to the presidency through the ballot box in 2007.
Ortega will be facing an increasingly difficult regional landscape in his new term. Leftist ally Venezuela is overwhelmed by an economic crisis and Cuba is normalizing relations with the U.S. The U.S. Congress is working on legislation to require Washington to oppose loans to Nicaragua from international lending institutions.
“The lack of Venezuelan support, the international price of oil, the price of our exports and the possibility that (U.S. legislation passes) makes it a more complicated outlook for the Ortega in the next term,” said Óscar René Vargas, a sociologist and economist at Central American University.