Ortega of Nicaragua to win election that US calls “pantomime”
SAN JOSE, Nov. 7 (Reuters) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was due for re-election on Sunday after jailing his main rivals and criminalizing most dissidents, following a vote the United States called a sham, the result of which was predetermined for a long time.
Closing of the polling stations at 6:00 p.m. (0000 GMT). Voters had formed in the capital, Managua, at some polling stations in the morning, but then eased considerably, in line with expectations of a historically low turnout.
Ortega, 75, a former revolutionary who helped overthrow the right-wing Somoza family dictatorship in the late 1970s, is already the oldest ruler in the Americas, with 15 consecutive years in power. He has reigned alongside his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, 70, official spokesperson for the government, since early 2017.
Sitting next to her on Sunday afternoon at an event broadcast by state television, an open-collar Ortega hailed the election as a victory over terrorism won by “the vast majority of Nicaraguans”, before to launch into its detractors.
“They didn’t want us to be able to hold these elections,” he said, referring to his domestic opponents and their foreign supporters. “They are demons who do not want peace for our people and instead opt for slander and disqualifications. Why? For Nicaragua to be embroiled in violence.”
But US President Joe Biden tore the Nicaraguan leader to pieces, saying in a statement released before the results were announced that Ortega and Murillo were “no different from the Somoza family” and had orchestrated a “pantomime election that was not neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic. “
Ortega was president in the 1980s before losing in an upheaval in 1990. He returned to the highest office in 2007.
Since May, Ortega’s police have jailed dozens of opposition figures, including seven presidential candidates, business leaders, journalists and even some of his former rebel allies.
Last week, US officials said further sanctions were being considered against the couple’s government, a sentiment shared by European Union leaders, in addition to a future review of Nicaragua’s status in the CAFTA regional trade pact. .
Biden called on Ortega to take immediate action to restore democracy and 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 its disposal to support the Nicaraguan people and hold the Ortega-Murillo government and those that facilitate his abuse, “he said.
Ortega’s only opposition to the ballot comes from five little-known candidates from small allied parties. About 4.5 million Nicaraguans are eligible to vote.
Sunday’s poll also has 92 seats in the unicameral Congress, also firmly controlled by Ortega’s allies.
In neighboring Costa Rica, where tens of thousands of Nicaraguan exiles have fled in recent years, around 2,000 anti-Ortega protesters marched along a main thoroughfare in downtown San JosÃ© chanting: “Long live a free Nicaragua “as festive marimba music blared from the speakers.
“I didn’t want to leave my country,” said protester Marcela Guevara, 48, an activist with the Blue and White National Unity Party of Nicaragua, a major opposition coalition that called for a boycott of the elections.
âBut you can’t talk, you can’t move, you can’t associate with any groups you want,â she said, adding that she also couldn’t imagine coming back anytime soon.
Prolonged social and political unrest is pushing the already growing ranks of migrants from Central America, both south to Costa Rica or north to the United States.
Nicaraguans reaching the US border this year have already peaked at around 50,000, according to official data.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s head of the Americas, called the election a “farce” in posts on Twitter.
He predicted that Ortega would extend his rule “by force of repression, censorship and fear,” and called on other countries to confront his government.
“It is essential to redouble international pressure to demand the release of political prisoners and to restore democracy in Nicaragua,” he said.
Ortega’s government took a particularly repressive turn in 2018, when it called off largely peaceful protests by those initially upset by the spending cuts, killing more than 300 and injuring thousands more. .
Last year, the ruling party passed a law banning speeches that Ortega judges deem harmful to the economy or “public order”, and international journalists have been banned in recent months from entering. in the country.
A Reuters journalist was turned away by border officials last Friday, while another, a Nicaraguan citizen, was turned back in September.
In an article published on social media on Sunday, the electoral authority allied with Ortega celebrated more than 200 “electoral companions” from 27 countries and 600 journalists of all nationalities covering the vote, without providing details.
International observers from the EU and the Organization of American States were not allowed to participate.
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Additional reports by Diego Ore and Alvaro Murillo; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney
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