By Daina Beth Solomon
SANJOSE -Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ortega-murillo-presidential-couple-with-an-iron-grip-nicaragua-2021-11-05 easily locked in a fourth consecutive term after suppressing political rivals, results showed on Monday, leading Washington to warn it would press for a “return to democracy” and free and fair elections.
Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council said that with roughly half the ballots counted, a preliminary tally gave Ortega’s Sandinista alliance about 75% of votes.
But in the months leading up to Sunday’s election Western and many Latin American nations had expressed deep concern about the fairness of the vote as Ortega detained opponents and business leaders, canceled rival parties, and criminalized dissent.
Election observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States were not allowed to scrutinize the vote and journalists have been barred from entering the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States will work with other democratic governments and was ready to use a range of tools, including possible sanctions, visa restrictions and coordinated actions against those it said were complicit in supporting the Nicaragua government’s “undemocratic acts.”
Democrats in the U.S. Congress pushed for U.S. President Joe Biden to back the so-called Renacer Act that aims to intensify pressure on Ortega and pursue greater regional cooperation to boost democratic institutions.
A statement by all 27 EU members accused Ortega of “systematic incarceration, harassment and intimidation” of opponents, journalists and activists.
The EU said the elections “complete the conversion of Nicaragua into an autocratic regime.” Chile, Costa Rica, Spain and Britain https://www.reuters.com/world/britain-says-ortegas-dragging-nicaragua-down-path-authoritarianism-2021-11-08 called for detained opposition leaders to be freed.
“Elections were neither, free, nor fair, nor competitive,” said Jose Manuel Albares, Spain’s foreign minister.
On Sunday, Ortega – the longest-serving leader in the Americas – hailed the election as a victory delivered by the “immense majority of Nicaraguans.”
Cuba, Venezuela and Russia all offered him their backing.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.S. calls for countries not to recognize the outcome were “unacceptable.”
Ortega’s victory consolidates the increasingly repressive political model he has built in recent years along with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
A former Marxist rebel who helped topple the right-wing Somoza family dictatorship in the late 1970s, Ortega says he is defending Nicaragua against unscrupulous adversaries bent on ousting him with the aid of foreign powers. His government has passed a series of laws that make it easy to prosecute opponents for crimes such as “betraying the homeland.”
Just five little-known candidates of mostly small parties allied to Ortega’s Sandinistas were permitted to run against him.
“Most people I know decided not to vote, they say it’s madness,” said Naomi, an opponent of the government from the eastern port of Bluefields, who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals.
“What they’re doing here is a joke.”
Nicaragua’s electoral authority said turnout was 65%.
In the 1980s, Ortega served a single term as president before being voted out. He returned to the top job in 2007.
After initially delivering solid economic growth and attracting private investment, Ortega’s government changed course in response to 2018 anti-government protests. More than 300 people were killed during the ensuing crackdown.
Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have since fled the country. Many of them gathered in neighboring Costa Rica on Sunday in a show of defiance against Ortega.
Prolonged discontent is expected to fuel more emigration https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/nicaraguan-exiles-sink-roots-costa-rica-ortega-set-re-election-2021-11-07 to Costa Rica and the United States, where record numbers of Nicaraguans have been apprehended at the border this year.
Rights activist Haydee Castillo, who was arrested in 2018 and now lives in the United States, called the election “a farce.”
“He has not conceded anything despite the resolutions and declarations that the international community has made,” Castillo said.