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Nicaragua's Ortega seen winning third straight term despite autocracy fears

 The Hawk |  2016-11-07 07:28:58.0  0  Comments

Nicaragua

MANAGUA: Former Marxist guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega looked set to easily win a third consecutive term as president of Nicaragua on Sunday, after delivering years of steady growth that have overridden concerns he is trying to install a family dynasty. Ortega and his running mate, his wife Rosario Murillo, had nearly 70 percent support, according to a recent opinion poll, tapping into strong voter approval for a drop in poverty since he took office in 2007 in one of the poorest countries in the Americas . Ortega, 70, went to vote in Managua just before the polls closed at 6 p.m. (0000 GMT), driving his wife to the voting station in a Mercedes jeep, where they were met by supporters amid a heavy security presence. �This is a vote for peace, for stability, for the security of Nicaraguan families,� Ortega said, wearing a red shirt and a cream-colored jacket. �Some say that we don�t have proper elections here, because we�re not insulting each other, throwing messages of hate, banging the drums of death.� Emerging as leader of the Sandinista movement that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, Ortega served one term as president in the 1980s before being sidelined for years after a series of electoral defeats. By the time he won Nicaragua�s 2006 election, he had moved far enough from his Marxist roots to talk about Jesus Christ in his speeches. Opponents have accused Ortega of trying to set up a �family dictatorship� since he appointed relatives to key posts, and after his Sandinistas pushed constitutional changes through Congress that ended presidential term limits in 2014. The opposition views Murillo�s vice presidential bid as further evidence of Ortega�s power grab, particularly given that rumors have long swirled over his supposed health problems. �Ortega gets his way and he doesn�t care if he violates the rights of others,� said Maximino Rodriguez, candidate of the center-right Liberal Constitutionalist Party or PLC, Ortega�s closest rival, polling at 8 percent support. �Supposedly he fought against the Somoza dictatorship, and the Sandinistas themselves regard Ortega as worse than Somoza,� he added, arguing Ortega was trying to cling to power. The Sandinistas have defended the decision to place Murillo on the ticket, citing her work ethic and the importance of promoting women to top jobs. Still, Ortega faces no obvious challenger. The opposition has been in disarray since Pedro Reyes used the courts to wrest leadership of the Independent Liberal Party, or PLI, the main group, from Eduardo Montealegre in June. PLI members of congress who refused to accept the decision, calling Reyes a puppet of Ortega, were dismissed. Hernan Selva, a 22-year-old engineering student and Ortega supporter, dismissed as �the kicks of a drowning man� the complaints by Rodriguez, who fought the Sandinistas in the 1980s as part of a right-wing paramilitary force known as the Contras. U.S. and international organizations voiced concern about Montealegre�s ouster and Ortega�s refusal to host international observers for the vote. Still, the World Bank acknowledges that poverty has fallen almost 13 percentage points under Ortega. Ortega, who has made few campaign appearances, has promised to defend his social and economic achievements if he wins. A substantial part of those gains have been funded by Venezuelan petrodollars that have underpinned social programs, helped private business and slashed energy costs. Ortega has also forged alliances with the business sector, helping Nicaragua to achieve average growth of 5 percent in the past five years, buttressed by high prices for its meat, coffee and gold exports, as well as remittances and foreign investment. Despite some ups and downs, Ortega and U.S. President Barack Obama have maintained a relatively cordial relationship, demonstrating Ortega�s shift from a leftist firebrand to a diplomat who maintains ties with a Cold War foe. But democracy remains a touchy subject. A U.S. bill known as the Nica Act seeks to condition financial assistance to Nicaragua on improvements in democracy, human rights and battling anti-corruption, leading Ortega�s government to decry �interference� from Washington in September. -Reuters

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