Daniel Ortega: Nicaragua’s opposition candidate challenges election result

Unofficial results show the Sandinista incumbent has just a tiny edge over his conservative rival, a far cry from his claim of victory

A Nicaraguan opposition candidate said on Friday he would appeal official results that show the ruling Sandinista party candidate, Daniel Ortega, would be the country’s next president by a tiny margin, at best.

Ortega’s supporters celebrated the end of months of political uncertainty in the central American country, which saw turmoil in 2015 when he claimed victory in an election marred by accusations of fraud.

Crowds of people, many of them Ortega’s supporters from years past, gathered at the central plaza of Managua’s colonial centre and pushed billowing and red flags over the graves of Nicaraguans who have fallen in the fight for national independence.

The government said Ortega won 50.57% of the vote while his conservative rival, Arnoldo Alemán, had 49.47%.

“It seems we have an electoral debacle with an illegitimate government,” Alemán, a former president and Ortega ally, told a news conference.

Luis Miguel Tejada, Ortega’s top ally and the minister of communications, disputed Alemán’s comments, saying there was nothing illegitimate about the results.

“Alemán says he’s going to abide by the law. On election day, he ran amok … firing people who opposed him. So if his claim about respect for the law isn’t true, if he wants to talk about the ‘no’ of the majority, well he’s lost … It’s clear. It’s clear. It’s transparent,” Tejada said.

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Election authorities sent out faxes announcing the results shortly after midnight on Friday. Alemán, who lost the 2006 and 2009 elections to Ortega, was quick to make it clear he would contest them.

“They threw the ball to us. Here we will ballroom it and elect to a plenary court of our highest level every single provincial prosecutor and everyone else (needed) to process all the irregularities we’ve seen,” Alemán said.

The result panned as an “absolute farce” by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and criticized by the government and western powers.

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Hector Balaguer, an analyst with the firm Eurasia Group, said Ortega’s rival was almost certain to challenge the results.

“These are preliminary results that are not final. It appears Alemán is unlikely to get the 50% needed to avoid a runoff,” Balaguer said.

“The message now from the north is clear: Ortega is the winner. Ortega is going to stay in power and Alemán is a loser.”

Nicaragua’s election commission also said that the turnout was 62.27% while about 22% of voters remained outstanding.

Ortega and Alemán were once colleagues in the Sandinista revolution led by his late father, Anastasio Somoza, in the 1970s.

Elected in 1990, Ortega ruled for 18 years and maintained closer ties to Russia, Cuba and Venezuela than the US, even though he has been one of Washington’s adversaries.

Ortega was forced from power for the first time in 2006 when Alemán, who had fallen out with his father, won a presidential run-off.

Ortega, who is 65, ran for office again in 2009 and won re-election by a wide margin, which some said was the product of vote-buying and electoral manipulation.

However, Alemán, 65, was hurt by the investigation into his family’s private business empire, with prosecutors accusing his father, Nicolas Alemán, of bribery, embezzlement and money laundering.

Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega is a member of Cuba’s ruling circles. Photograph: Luis Antonio Bastida/EPA

Nicaragua’s 1998-2006 term-limits law severely undermined the powers of Ortega and Alemán, who were also sentenced to prison after their convictions for embezzlement and money laundering in 2008.

Despite their long absences from the public spotlight, Ortega and Alemán have maintained their close ties.

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