MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has called for a fourth consecutive election in what the United States called a “pantomime” after his top rivals were jailed and the country’s opposition urged voters to boycott did.
Ortega has raided Sunday’s election against alleged interference by Washington to determine who is president for the next five years, as well as 90 of the 92 seats in Congress and Nicaragua’s representation in the Central American Parliament.
The ruling Sandinista Front and its allies control Congress and all government institutions. Ortega first served as president from 1985 to 1990 before returning to power in 2007. He recently announced his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, as his “co-president”.
Polling went on smoothly and polling was called off without any notice on Sunday evening. The provisional vote totals were expected on Monday.
The opposition had called for Nicaragua to stay home in protest of an electoral process that was widely criticized by foreign powers for not being credible. In June, police arrested seven potential presidential challengers to Ortega on charges that essentially amounted to treason. He remained in custody on election day. Some two dozen other opposition leaders were also swept away ahead of the election.
The remaining contenders in Sunday’s vote were lesser-known politicians from smaller parties seen as friends with Ortega’s Sandinista Front.
On Saturday, the Blue and White National Union, an opposition coalition, issued an alert after at least eight of its leaders were “abducted by the regime in an illegal raid” on Saturday afternoon and evening.
The Civic Alliance, another opposition coalition, reported “harassment, surveillance, threats, assault, assault, illegal and arbitrary detention” of some of its leaders around Nicaragua.
On Sunday, Mayela Rodriguez found her local polling station almost empty at a school in Managua. “In previous years it was really full,” she said. “Earlier you had to (wait) in a huge line to come here and now, empty.”
Around noon, Ortega spoke live on television after the vote – holding up his inked finger.
He rebuked the United States for interference in Nicaragua, noted that there had been alleged fraud in the previous US election, reminded that those who attacked the US Capitol were called terrorists and were in prison. He reiterated his claim that the US government supported the massive protests in Nicaragua in April 2018, which he called an attempted coup.
“They have as much right as we have to prosecute terrorists,” Ortega said.
In a statement released around the end of voting, US President Joe Biden called Nicaragua’s election process “rigged” and said the US would use the tools at its disposal to hold the Nicaraguan government accountable.
“The Ortega and Murillo families now rule Nicaragua as an autocracy, which is no different from the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago,” Biden said.
He criticized the vote as a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and certainly not democratic.”
In neighboring Costa Rica, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada tweeted that his government would not recognize the election due to “democratic conditions and lack of guarantees”.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said the peaceful vote sends a message to world powers that “Nicaraguas are a respected patriot and we are not going to succumb to their threats, sanctions and non-recognition of elections.”
With little doubt as to the outcome of the presidential election, the focus is already on what the international response will be as Ortega seeks to tighten his grip on power.
The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against those in Ortega’s inner circle, but Ortega only responded by arresting his opponents.
On Friday, a senior US State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the US government was ready to consider additional targeted sanctions, but tried to avoid measures that Nicaragua would take. affect people more widely.
“It is very difficult when you have so few goals that include staying in power at any cost and disregarding the will of your own citizens or the citizens’ needs to maintain that power,” the official said. said.
The Organization of American States will hold its annual general meeting in Guatemala later this week. Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are among seven countries that abstained from voting at the OAS last month on a resolution condemning repression in Nicaragua.
International observers present for the previous Nicaraguan elections were not present. Instead, the government recognized 232 “electoral peers”, mostly from left-wing governments and parties.
Among them was Dmitry Novikov, the representative of the Duma of Russia. He visited several polling places and said he had “respect for the head of the interventionist” and criticized European leaders who questioned the election.
Gerardo Berthin, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs for the democracy campaign organization Freedom House, said Sunday the vote was going as written by Ortega.
Berthin said, “That’s what they want in terms of showing people voting, even though we know they actually have a list of people who work for the government and they’re checking who’s going and who.” No.”
Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Javier Cordoba in San Jose, Costa Rica contributed to this report.