Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega won a third term Tuesday but international observers blasted what they called an “unacceptable climate of intolerance” and a degree of violence that marred the vote.
Ortega, a 66-year-old former Marxist guerrilla leader, claimed victory with 43 percent of the vote in the first-round vote on April 18 but was soundly beaten by new challenger, former Finance Minister Manuel Rosales, in Tuesday’s run-off.
Rosales garnered 20 percent of the vote and La Prensa newspaper reported there was a 62 percent turnout, or 3.67 million votes, as tallied by about 1,000 polling stations nationwide. Rosales’ party, known as UNL, held no seats in the last legislature and ruled Nicaragua briefly from 1980 to 1985.
Rosales and his supporters said in a brief televised speech that he would resign from the post of minister of industry and tourism if he wins.
However, he threatened, if victorious, he would call “extreme measures” against his opponent.
International observers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the European Union — the two major observer missions in Nicaragua — said Tuesday’s outcome could not be considered legitimate.
“The UNASUR and the EU accredited observation missions that are in Nicaragua, and are working along with electoral authorities and institutions, can only express regret with the result of the presidential elections,” they said in a joint statement that did not name Ortega.
The statement said the Nicaraguan government had implemented a “manifestly inadequate methodology” in the election and that the country’s electoral authority was in effect a “parody.”
“We would also remind all the contestants that they cannot refuse any international organization or initiative that has the potential to ensure a level playing field in elections,” the joint statement said.
While Ortega has largely ended years of political turmoil in Nicaragua by fostering cordial relations with the United States and removing trade restrictions, he remains intensely unpopular with the educated, middle-class electorate that helped push President Barack Obama out of office in November.
Ortega, who became president in 2007, won re-election in 2011 with about 53 percent of the vote. But the rampant corruption and political interference that he has helped nurture are still bitter memories of his rule between 1979 and 1990, during which his Sandinista movement was accused of suppressing opponents, killing thousands and sending tens of thousands of people across the border to escape hunger.
Tuesday’s “Unacceptable Climate of Intolerance” was the official outcome of the electoral board, headed by retired military general Humberto Ortega, who has been Ortega’s most consistent backer over the years.
The board has so far refused to release any information about the actual vote, leaving others to determine how close the race is.
Rosales, meanwhile, was campaigning with a pair of comedian cohorts as he promised a “week of freedoms” that would include sports games and a free housing project in the capital, Managua.
Rosales had called Ortega’s campaign tactics a “joke” and criticized the government’s tactics in the election, claiming it was less than transparent. He also declared “the Sandinista threat is dwindling,” and he thanked the cheering crowds that began gathering on Sunday night outside his office in front of the presidential palace in Managua.
Opposition groups, fearful of a possible government crackdown, also called on their supporters to boycott the vote.
The election results could have a knock-on effect on regional relations.
Nicaragua had been expected to join ALBA, a Latin American trade group that includes some communist-ruled nations and Cuba, to begin sending drugs north. Officials at the White House, the State Department and the State Department said last week they had nothing to do with the decision by the Nicaraguan government to attend ALBA meetings in Venezuela.
Last year, Nicaragua and Cuba were removed from the CELAC, a Latin American and Caribbean group of regional states, for having “endangered democracy” in Cuba, which hosted its membership election.
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