Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is on track to win a fourth consecutive term, preliminary results show, in an election preceded by a month-long crackdown on opposition figures and candidates.

Ortega’s victory was anything but insured before citizens cast their votes on Sunday, with only a handful of unknown candidates standing against him and the opposition challengers considering his biggest future threats remain in jail.

Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council said early Monday that with about half of the ballots counted, a preliminary score for Ortega gave about 75 percent of the vote in the presidential election. widely condemned as illegal by legal groups, various Western powers and regional organizations.

The council put participation at about 65 percent of the 4.5 million Nicaraguans who voted. The opposition called on Nicaraguane to stay home in protest of what it said was a polluted election process.

Late Sunday night, some of Ortega’s followers started celebrating in the streets of the capital Managua even before the final result.

“Yes, we did, Daniel, Daniel!” they shouted in several neighborhoods as fireworks went off, according to the AFP news agency.

Protests against Ortega have meanwhile taken place in exile in Nicaraguan communities in Costa Rica, Spain, the USA and Guatemala.

Shortly before the early results were announced, US President Joe Biden accused Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of orchestrating a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair”.

Nicaraguan citizens banned in Costa Rica protest against election [File: Ezequiel Becerra/AFP]

Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s southern neighbor, also rejected the election before the preliminary results were announced.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares also dismissed the election on Monday as “a hoax against the people of Nicaragua, a hoax against the international community and, above all, a hoax against democracy.”

International observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States were not allowed to participate, and journalists were not allowed to enter the country.

If the results hold, Ortega, whose Sandinista Front party and allies controlled Congress and government institutions before the polls, will remain president for another five years.

Ninety of the 92 seats in the country’s congress and Nicaragua’s representation in the Central American parliament were also on the ballot. These results were not immediately announced.

Oppression of opposition

As a young revolutionary, Ortega helped overthrow the anti-communist strongman Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and only served as president from 1985 to 1990.

He returned to power in 2007 and led an increasingly authoritarian government, according to rights observers.

In 2018, security forces and pro-government armed groups violently cracked down on protests against the government in the province. More than 300 people were killed during the riots and at least 150 people have been arrested since then.

Ortega, meanwhile, denounced the protesters as “terrorists” and reiterated that his presidency “rises up against those who promote terrorism, finance war, against those who sow terror, kill”.

In June, police arrested seven potential presidential challengers on what legal groups call fraudulent charges, including undermining “national integrity”, working with foreign governments and money laundering. They remained in custody on election day.

Dozens more opposition figures have also been arrested in recent months.

On Saturday, the Blue and White National Union, an opposition alliance, issued a warning after saying at least eight of its leaders had been “kidnapped by the regime in illegal raids”.

Meanwhile, the Civic Alliance, another opposition coalition, reported “harassment, surveillance, intimidation, assault, assault, illegal and arbitrary detention” of some of its leaders around Nicaragua in front of the polls.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has faced few well-known challengers after his government arrested seven opposition candidates in June [AFP]

In his statement, US President Biden said Ortega and Murillo “now rule Nicaragua as autocrats, not unlike the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago”.

He called on the duo to take immediate steps to restore democracy and to release the detained opposition figures immediately.

Until then, the United States, in close cooperation with other members of the international community, will use all diplomatic and economic instruments at our disposal to support and hold accountable the people of Nicaragua, the Ortega-Murillo Government and those who facilitate its abuse, ”Biden said.

The US and EU have already imposed sanctions on those in Ortega’s inner circle, a move Ortega has taken by arresting even more of its opponents.

On Friday, a senior U.S. State Department official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said the U.S. government was willing to consider additional targeted sanctions but tried to avoid measures that would widen the Nicaraguan people.

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