Daniel Ortega set to win Nicaraguan election denounced as sham

Authoritarian leader who has been in power since 2007 on course to secure another five-year term

Nicaragua’s authoritarian leaders, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, appeared to have secured another five years in power in an election that the US president, Joe Biden, condemned as an undemocratic “pantomime”.

In the early hours of Monday, Nicaragua’s supreme electoral council said Ortega, a one-time revolutionary who has governed continuously since 2007, had received 75% of votes, with about half of the 1.3m ballots counted.

During a rare public appearance on Sunday, Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who helped defeat the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s, painted the election as a choice between the peace and economic stability he claimed to offer and the conflict, chaos and “terror” of the opposition.

“This is a historic battle,” declared the 75-year-old Sandinista, who was seeking re-election alongside his influential vice-president and wife, Rosario Murillo.

Critics, however, said the election, which followed a punishing six-month crackdown on Nicaragua’s fractured opposition in which all of Ortega’s main challengers were detained, was a sham.

“The arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 40 opposition figures since May, including seven potential presidential candidates, and the blocking of political parties from participation rigged the outcome well before election day,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday.

“Long unpopular and now without a democratic mandate, 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,” he added, vowing to use “all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support the people of Nicaragua”.

The centre-left president of neighbouring Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said his country would not recognise the result and called for the release of Nicaragua’s political prisoners and negotiations that might lead to the re-establishment of democracy.

Spain’s government rejected the elections as “a mockery” that did not reflect the genuine will of the Nicaraguan people and accused Ortega of imposing “a repressive and authoritarian regime” on the Central American country.

The European Union said the anti-democratic election completed “the conversion of Nicaragua into an autocratic regime”.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, called western calls to reject the election result “unacceptable” while Venezuela’s foreign minister, Felix Plasencia, hailed what he called a “historic day of democracy” in Nicaragua.

Experts believe Ortega’s determination to win, whatever the reputational damage, reflected his fear of losing power and being prosecuted for alleged crimes against humanity as a result of a deadly 2018 crackdown on student-led protests in which more than 300 people were killed.

“He has shown that political survival outweighs any possible internal or external pressure. It was a matter of life or death for him to ensure re-election on Sunday,” said Tiziano Breda, a Central America specialist at Crisis Group.


Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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