Nicaragua’s Ortega set to win election that U.S. blasts as ‘pantomime’
Ortega, 75, is already the Americas’ longest-serving leader, with 15 consecutive years in power.
SAN JOSE — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was set to win re-election on Sunday after jailing top rivals and criminalizing most dissent, following a vote that the United States said was a sham whose outcome had been long predetermined.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. (0000 GMT). Lines of voters had formed in the capital, Managua, at some polling places in the morning, but then eased considerably, consistent with expectations of a historically low turnout.
Ortega, 75, a onetime revolutionary who helped depose the right-wing Somoza family dictatorship in the late 1970s, is already the Americas’ longest-serving leader, with 15 consecutive years in power. He has ruled alongside his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, 70, the government’s official spokesperson, since early 2017.
Seated next to her on Sunday afternoon at an event broadcast by state television, an open-collared Ortega hailed the election as a victory over terrorism delivered by the “immense majority of Nicaraguans,” before launching into his critics.
“They didn’t want us to be able to hold these elections,” he said, referring to his domestic opponents and their foreign backers. “They are demons who don’t want peace for our people and instead opt for slander and disqualifications. Why? So that Nicaragua is embroiled in violence.”
But U.S. President Joe Biden ripped into the Nicaraguan leader, saying in a statement issued before results were announced that Ortega and Murillo were “no different from the Somoza family” and had orchestrated a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic.”
Ortega was president in the 1980s before losing in a 1990 upset. He returned to the top job in 2007.
Since May, Ortega’s police have imprisoned dozens of leading opposition figures, including seven presidential hopefuls, business leaders, journalists and even some of his old rebel allies.
Last week, U.S. officials said new sanctions were being considered against the couple’s government, a sentiment echoed by European Union leaders, in addition to a future review of Nicaragua’s status in the CAFTA regional trade pact.
Biden called for Ortega to take immediate steps to restore democracy and to release detained opposition figures.
“Until then, the United States, in close coordination with other members of the international community, will use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support the people of Nicaragua and hold accountable the Ortega-Murillo government and those that facilitate its abuses,” he said.
Ortega’s only opposition on the ballot comes from five little-known candidates of small allied parties. About 4.5 million Nicaraguans are eligible to vote.