With nearly 40% of the votes counted and nearly 62.6% in his favour, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is heading for a landslide re-election which opponents describe as "illegitimate, dishonest and unconstitutional."
Radio journalist, writer and politician Fabio Gadea, a candidate with the opposition alliance “Independent Liberal Party” (PLI), is in second place with 30.8% of the vote. It is estimated that less than 70% of voters participated in the election. Eliseo Nunez, head of Gadea’s presidential campaign said the PLI does not accept the figures given by the electoral authority and describes them as "totally unrealistic".
The son of a shoemaker and a teacher, Daniel Ortega, 66, is the oldest of four children and started in politics at age 15 fighting against the regime of Anastasio Somoza. He spent seven years in prison and was released by a guerrilla action in 1974.
Today, Ortega is a former guerrilla fighter inclined to religion, often invoking God and Pope John Paul II. He has established alliances with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, with the IMF and political entrepreneurs and right-wing politicians.
His campaign slogan is "Nicaragua - Christian, Socialist and Solidaria." According to analysts, the motto reflects the metamorphosis of Ortega and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In 1979, Ortega led the revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorial dynasty to install a socialist government that seized private property and undertook massive literacy campaigns.
Supported and inspired by Cuba and the former Soviet Union, Ortega ruled during the 80s all through the Cold War, facing the economic blockade ordered by Washington and the activities of the "Contras", armed and financed by the United States for which he was forced to establish unpopular conscription and food rationing systems.
In 1990, Ortega was replaced by a 17-year-long period of right-wing governments that implemented tough economic adjustments. In 2007, having disposed of its characteristic olive-green guerrilla shirt, Ortega was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency. To be able to govern he had to negotiate and establish compromises even with former enemies. Ortega has sent conciliatory messages to the United States government, he managed to establish a free trade agreement with the United States, has good relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and sought loans and investments from successful private entrepreneurs.
Among his new allies are former liberal president Arnoldo Aleman, convicted of corruption charges which were dismissed as part of a political pact with Ortega, and the influential Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando, who was his enemy during the 80's and now is an enthusiastic supporter of his government. On the other hand, ignoring potential political costs, he has declared his friendship and loyalty to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, after whose death he remained silent.
Ortega's opponents describe him as authoritarian, corrupt and distant from the people. However, he has strong support in rural and marginalized areas of Nicaragua. Vast sectors among the poor have benefited from subsidies and welfare schemes. Since 2006, Nicaragua’s economy has enjoyed steady growth and exports have doubled.
According to its opponents, an important part of the subsidies are financed with the cooperation of Hugo Chavez.
Ortega's candidacy and now his victory, have been characterized by different sectors of the opposition as "illegitimate, dishonest and unconstitutional" because of legal manoeuvres to circumvent the constitutional ban that prevented him from aspiring to re-election.
Nicaragua's Constitution prohibits the immediate re-election of the president, but pro-government judges of the Supreme Court declared that article unenforceable, which cleared the way for Ortega to stand for election.