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Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega headed for third consecutive term amid questions about democracy

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Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, right, and his wife and running mate Rosario Murillo. (Esteban Felix/AP)

MEXICO CITY While some elections in the Americas this week might be nail-bitingly close, Sunday’s vote in Nicaragua will not be one of them.

President Daniel Ortega, the 70-year-old former Marxist guerrilla, is expected to be a shoe-in to capture his third consecutive term as president, and fourth overall since he helped lead the Sandinistas to an overthrow in 1979 of the Somoza family that had ruled for the previous four decades.

For many Nicaragua observers, the story is not the outcome, but the process one that has looked increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian as Ortega has consolidated power over his many years in office. For this election, Ortega has banned independent international observers. Over the summer, the Supreme Court blocked a leading opposition candidate from participating in the election, while the Supreme Electoral Council, another body seen as loyal to Ortega, forced 16 opposition lawmakers out of their seats. Ortega has also chosen his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his running mate.Changes to the constitution in 2014 eliminated term limits, allowing Ortega to rule indefinitely.

This election is not free, it is not transparent, nor is it competitive, said Carlos F. Chamorro, the publisher of the independent magazine Confidencial. This is not a true election.

Ortega remains a popular figure.A September poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Nicaraguans planned to vote for himand the next-most-popular candidate was polling at just 8 percent of the vote. During Ortega’s tenure, poverty levels have fallen, and the gang violence so rampant in other Central American countries has been far more contained. Ortega has developed a pro-business reputation and the economy has grown by an average of more than 5 percent over the past five years, surpassing many in Latin America.

But the achievements have been matched by growing concern over authoritarian tendencies. Most of the media in Nicaragua is controlled by the government. Ortega’s family members hold key positions of power. For a man who came to prominence opposing an oligarchic dynasty, many see a bitter irony in his evolution.

I think populist presidents are frequently tempted to do this consolidation of power, said Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America. He’s reverted to this form, and it is very troubling.

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Last month, several opposition figures wrote to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, arguing that Ortega’s government has demolished one by one the pillars of representative democracy, by removing elected officials, banning political groups, and other actions.


The immense majority of Nicaraguans, including the most fervent partisans of this regime, know clearly that on November 6, there will not be elections in Nicaragua but an electoral farce in which the results … are already determined, they wrote.

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