Nicaragua’s leader, wife likely to clinch elec­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANAGUA: Nicaragua’s Pres­i­dent Daniel Ortega and his ex­trav­a­gant wife, Rosario Murillo, looked likely to win elec­tions yes­ter­day that would hand him a third straight term and ce­ment her role as co-ruler. Vot­ers filed through polling sta­tions across the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion of six mil­lion to select their pres­i­dent and law­mak­ers in their Na­tional Assem­bly. Mul­ti­ple state tele­vi­sion chan­nels em­pha­sized the “calm” and “or­der” ex­hib­ited, and broad­cast get-out-the-vote mes­sages from Catholic Church of­fi­cials.

For­eign ob­servers were barred from mon­i­tor­ing the elec­tion, though some Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States rep­re­sen­ta­tives were present to “learn” de­tails of the vote. Polling was sched­uled to close at 6:00 pm (0000 GMT Mon­day), with re­sults ex­pected hours later. Voter in­ten­tion sur­veys credit Ortega with an in­sur­mount­able lead over ri­vals. The 70-year-old for­mer Marx­ist rebel is widely pop­u­lar-es­pe­cially with Nicaragua’s poor who ac­count for more than a third of the pop­u­la­tion-for so­cial pro­grams and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity that has pro­moted vi­brant growth.

Pow­er­ful first lady

If he tri­umphs, it would be Ortega’s fourth pres­i­den­tial man­date. He has served two con­sec­u­tive terms since 2007, and pre­vi­ously be­tween 1985 and 1990, when his San­din­ista Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front emerged vic­to­ri­ous from a rev­o­lu­tion that top­pled a dic­ta­to­rial dy­nasty.

Murillo, 65, al­ready fills a prom­i­nent role as his gov­ern­ment’s spokes­woman. With Ortega in­creas­ingly re­luc­tant to make pub­lic ap­pear­ances, she has stepped up-wear­ing trade­mark col­or­ful dresses and os­ten­ta­tious jew­elry-to rep­re­sent the ad­min­is­tra­tion. She has also left her mark on the cap­i­tal, or­der­ing the erec­tion of tall, metal “trees of life” that dec­o­rate the main boule­vard in bright col­ors. Many ob­servers be­lieve “La Com­pan­era” (the com­pan­ion), as she is known, al­ready shares de­ci­sions with Ortega and could be­come pres­i­dent her­self if he bows out, or in the next elec­tions.

‘Cou­ples in power’

“The prac­tice of ‘cou­ples in power’ is not ex­clu­sive to Nicaragua,” Veronica Rueda Estrada, a Nicaragua ex­pert and pro­fes­sor at Mex­ico’s Quin­tana Roo Univer­sity, told AFP by email. She called to mind Cristina Kirch­ner, who suc­ceeded her hus­band Nestor Kirch­ner as pres­i­dent of Ar­gentina, and Hil­lary Clin­ton in the United States, who is vy­ing to be­come pres­i­dent with Bill Clin­ton by her side.

Rueda said the over­shad­ow­ing US elec­tions had spared Nicaragua in­tense in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny. But once the US vote is out of the way on Tues­day, at­ten­tion would turn to how Nicaragua would face chal­lenges, no­tably the evap­o­ra­tion of credit from its trou­bled ally Venezuela. The op­po­si­tion, al­ready weak and frac­tured, has been pro­gres­sively side­lined by Ortega and in­sti­tu­tions such as the courts and elec­toral au­thor­ity.

Parts of it have called the elec­tions a “farce” and urged Nicaraguans to not cast votes, mak­ing turnout fig­ures an im­por­tant el­e­ment in the re­sult. A poll by Nicaraguan sur­vey firm M&R said Ortega had 70 per­cent sup­port, and turnout was pre­dicted at 75 per­cent. A sur­vey by the CID-Gallup con­sul­tancy in neigh­bor­ing Costa Rica of­fered a more muted pic­ture — 52 per­cent for Ortega, with turnout at 58 per­cent-but still a com­fort­able mar­gin over ri­vals.

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