Ortega under fire for Nicaragua election 'farce'

Nicaragua’s longtime leader Daniel Ortega faced a torrent of international criticism Monday after he won a fourth straight presidential term in what critics described as a “farce” election with his political opponents jailed or exiled.

With Ortega’s victory in Sunday’s poll a foregone conclusion, the United States and Europe led fierce condemnation of the 75-year-old former guerrilla whom they accused of dictatorial tactics and of crushing dissent.

A partial official count from the Supreme Electoral Council showed Ortega and wife Rosario Murillo, his vice president, securing 75 percent of votes.

Nicaragua is now fully “an autocratic regime” after the deeply deficient elections handed Ortega his fifth overall presidential term, the European Union said.

The polls “lack legitimacy” after Ortega “eliminated all credible electoral competition,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a withering statement on behalf of the 27-nation bloc, adding further sanctions were being considered.

The election took place without independent international observers and with most foreign media denied access to the country.

Spain branded the vote “a farce against democracy,” with seven would-be presidential challengers detained in Nicaragua since June and the five contenders Ortega did face dismissed by critics as regime loyalists.

The British government said the ballot was “an election in name only,” while US President Joe Biden said its outcome was “rigged” long before the “pantomime election.”

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken threatened further sanctions and visa restrictions “for those complicit in supporting the Ortega-Murillo government’s undemocratic acts.”

Faced with international criticism, Ortega lashed out at Spain and the European Union, saying they were led by “fascists” and “Nazi parliamentarians.”

Overnight in the streets of the capital Managua, supporters waving red and black flags of Ortega’s party celebrated in the Plaza de las Victorias.

“Whether the Yankees like it or not, we rule!” said one woman.

Nicaragua’s neighbor Costa Rica, however, said there was no way to determine whether the vote was “credible, independent, free, fair and inclusive.”

Uruguay and Colombia were among other Latin American states to not recognize the outcome.

– Opposition ‘terrorism’ –

Former guerrilla hero Ortega launched a new attack on his opponents Sunday, saying: “This day we are standing up to those who promote terrorism, finance war, to those who sow terror, death.”

He was referring to Nicaraguans who took part in massive protests against his government in 2018, which were met with a violent crackdown that claimed more than 300 lives in Central America’s poorest country.

Some 150 people have been jailed since then, including 39 opposition figures rounded up since June.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) said Nicaragua was a “police state” using tactics of “fear (and) social control” to “crush the opposition.”

Opponents said the vote was marked by mass abstention even as the government claimed a turnout of 65 percent.

The Urnas Abiertas independent observatory estimated turnout at a paltry 18.5 percent.

Fear vied with apathy among the 4.4 million Nicaraguans eligible to cast a ballot in the country of 6.5 million.

“No one from my family went to vote.┬áThis was a mockery for Nicaraguans,” said a 49-year-old woman who runs a grocery store.

Like many others, she was too scared to give her name.

But at one polling station, Pablo de Jesus Rodriguez, a 26-year-old carpenter and bricklayer, told AFP as he cast his vote: “The president has done good things for our country.”

– Unspecified attacks –

On Sunday, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro — his own 2018 re-election not recognized by most of the international community — congratulated Ortega even before the results were in.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the head of a one-party state, praised the “demonstration of sovereignty and civility in the face of a cruel media campaign.”

The Bolivian government hailed a “democratic” process and former leader Evo Morales, who in 2019 sought a fourth consecutive term despite a constitutional two-term limit, blasted Washington for trying to “ignore the democratic and sovereign will of Nicaragua.”

Meanwhile, Russia attacked the West for not recognizing the results.

“We consider this unacceptable and we strongly condemn such a stance,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

A firebrand Marxist in his youth, Ortega ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, after the guerrilla ousting of US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

Returning to power in 2007, he has won reelection three times, becoming increasingly dictatorial and quashing presidential term limits.

Jailed opposition figures, including journalists, are accused of unspecified attacks on Nicaragua’s “sovereignty” under a law passed by a parliament dominated by Ortega allies, who also control the judiciary and electoral bodies.

Election authorities banned the country’s main opposition alliance from contesting Sunday’s vote.

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