MANAGUA: Nicaragua held elections Sunday that look certain to hand another term to popular President Daniel Ortega, and make his wife vice president, but which the opposition said was marked by “massive” voter abstention.
Speaking just after casting his own ballot, and as polling closed at 6:00 pm Sunday (8 am Monday in Philippines), Ortega said “it’s a vote for peace, for the security of the Nicaraguan people.”
Results in the presidential and legislative elections were expected within hours.
Pre-poll voter surveys predicted support as high as 70 percent for Ortega. His nearest rival, a lawyer from the conservative Constitutionalist Liberal Party, Maximo Rodriguez, is credited with eight percent.
Ortega, a 70-year-old former Marxist rebel, has strong support of Nicaragua’s poor, who account for more than a third of the population, and who have benefited from his social programs. The country’s powerful business interests have also been well served from economic stability and security under Ortega that has promoted vibrant growth and investment.
Orgega’s wife, Murillo, 65, whom many see as already sharing power as government’s spokeswoman and will be well positioned as vice president to become to head of state in the future, described the vote as “exemplary.”
But the opposition, which has been sidelined by Ortega and largely booted out of the National Assembly by recent court decisions, questioned the legitimacy of the elections, calling them a “farce.”
“It’s obvious across the country that absenteeism was massive,” the head of the opposition Broad Front for Democracy party, Violeta Granera, told reporters.
“We calculate between 70 and 80 percent abstention,” with voters notably staying away in areas traditionally loyal to Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front party, she said.
Men armed with machetes and sticks set fire to one polling station in a rural area 300 kilometers east of Managua, through which Ortega has controversially proposed building a canal to rival the one in Panama.