Accessibility links

Ortega Aims for Nicaraguan Presidency, Again - 2001-08-08


A decade after he was voted out of office in Nicaragua, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is asking Nicaraguans to give him another shot at the presidency. His potential comeback in the November 4 presidential election has put an international spotlight on the vote. But, for many Nicaraguans, this race offers little hope for political change.

Twenty-two years to the day after the Sandinista Revolutionary Movement ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza, a crowd estimated at over 100,000 people stood for hours in the driving rain in a Managua park, chanting and singing as they awaited the arrival of Daniel Ortega. The event marked the anniversary of the revolution and the beginning of Mr. Ortega's campaign to win back the presidency.

A man who preferred only to use his first name, Marvin, was among the multitude. He says he supports Mr. Ortega because he sees that in the past 10 years the government hasn't done anything for the working class or the poor. He says Mr. Ortega has always defended the poor. But some political analysts say Mr. Ortega is a political strongman, or caudillo, who appeals to the poor with populist rhetoric and showers his most faithful followers and allies with money and favors.

This time around, Mr. Ortega is facing off against long-time foe, Enrique Bolańos, a candidate for the ruling Liberal Party and one-time vice president in the current administration.

The most recent polls show Mr. Ortega leading with roughly 39 percent of the vote and Bolańos trailing with around 34 percent. But these polls were taken before the candidate for the third-placed Conservative party and his running mate pulled out, leaving 11 percent of the votes up for grabs.

This presents the voters with a choice between the ruling Liberals, a party whose leader, President Aleman, is widely perceived as corrupt, and the Sandinistas, a party many associate with war, inflation and obligatory military service.

Political analyst Carlos Fernando Chamorro, whose mother Violeta Chamorro won the 1990 elections ousting Mr. Ortega from power, says the failure of any other credible candidate to emerge is no accident. He says it is the result of a political pact between President Aleman and Mr. Ortega, which enabled the two to divvy up government institutions among political allies. Mr. Chamorro said the pact created a two-party system in which the Liberals and the Sandinistas are the only political options to the exclusion of all others.

This sense of a limited political landscape is lamented by some voters in Nicaragua, including taxi driver Edwin Rugama. He says if he votes for the Liberals they'll just continue to rob the nation, and if he votes for the Sandinistas they'll want to make up for the years they haven't been able to rob the nation. Why should we vote, he asks.

Nonetheless surveys don't reflect an abstention rate much higher than 20 percent in a nation with one of the highest voter participation records in the region.

Rather, analysts think most voters will probably go out to vote - but they may well cast their ballot against the candidate they fear, instead of for the one they believe in.

XS
SM
MD
LG