Nicaragua’s presidential election was criticised by international observers as having been neither free nor fair on Wednesday, as Daniel Ortega won re-election to a third consecutive term despite a sharp drop in voter turnout.
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Ortega, leader of the ruling Sandinista party, won 56.7% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential contest against 43.3% for Liberal party candidate Eduardo Montealegre.
On a day that international observers described as “a parody of a democracy”, Manuel “Chico” Solís of the National Coalition for Change came in third with just 8.3%.
Though the election had been seen as a referendum on Ortega’s long hold on power, turnout dropped from 61.1% in 2008 to 34.5% this time around.
Mario Amparo, a prominent opposition leader, said the low turnout appeared to have had a “hidden” effect, with nationalist and minority voters who would normally have rebelled against Ortega staying home.
Ortega, 65, has governed since the revolution of 1979 ended the reign of the Somoza dictatorship. He was first elected president in 1990 on a moderate platform of building a stronger economy and creating a more just society. But he fell from grace when the economy plunged in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, before he became reelected with an unprecedented 91% victory in 2006.
If he wins a third term as president, Ortega will be forced to vacate the presidential palace by 2021. He has promised to create a civilian-led Sandinista administration while keeping significant control over national and regional affairs.
Analysts have suggested that Ortega’s apparent victory on Sunday, marked by a red-and-blue win, a substantial drop in the economic tide and the declining popularity of a Nicaraguan left that once delivered thrills and chills as well as modernising socialism, was a result of the fragmented opposition, poor organisation and alleged irregularities.