Nicaragua has a constitutional ban on sitting presidents running for re-election. But Daniel Ortega is doing just that, and he looks set to win an unprecedented third term.
This is an election filled with shifting ghosts. Characters from all sides of Nicaragua’s tumultuous recent history are involved in the campaign.
Ortega, the former Marxist guerrilla and longtime Sandinista leader, is promising neoliberal reforms and a pro-business environment to attract foreign capital.
Ortega is leading in the polls — but legal scholars say he is ineligible to run.
His leading challenger is Fabio Gadea, a former Contra who in the 1980s fled to Costa Rica to set up an anti-Sandinista radio station.
Also in the race is ex-president Arnoldo Aleman. After Aleman left office in 2002, he was convicted of having stolen $100 million in government funds. The conservative politician’s conviction was eventually overturned in 2009.
Former Sandinista guerrillas are denouncing the current Sandinista leader, saying Ortega is becoming a dictator.
Questions About Ortega’s Candidacy
Monica Baltodano was a fighter with the Sandinistas in the late 1970s during their guerrilla offensive to oust the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. She says the current elections in Nicaragua are a farce and a ploy to keep Ortega permanently in power.
Ortega tried repeatedly to get the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to lift term limits. When that failed, six pro-Sandinista members of the 15 member Supreme Court met in a hastily called session in 2009 and ruled the country’s term limits invalid.
Baltodano is now calling on voters to go to the polls to cast a “null” vote in protest. “We are calling on people to mark across the entire ballot,” she says; this way the ballots can’t be used by anyone.
In a sprawling market in Managua, some vendors echo Baltodano’s statement that this election is a farce.
But there is also genuine support for Ortega.
Elias Jose Gutierrez Amador, who sells bags of charcoal for roughly a dollar a bag, says he is going to support Ortega because Ortega has done a lot for the country.
Gutierrez says Ortega helped people after recent floods. Other people in the market say Ortega is providing free roofing, medicine and other services to the poor and because of this, the Sandinista leader will have their votes Sunday at the polls.