Preliminary results from Sunday's presidential election in Nicaragua show right-of-center candidate Enrique Bolanos has won. This would be the third defeat for former President Daniel Ortega of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front.

In the early morning hours supporters of Enrique Bolanos cheered the announcement that the first unofficial results favored their candidate. By law, national news media are prohibited from announcing such results, but it was clear that things were not going well for Mr. Ortega. While the party atmosphere grew at the hotel where Bolanos supporters gathered, the mood was glum at the hotel across town where Ortega backers came together.

If official results confirm the results of the quick count figures, this will be the third consecutive defeat for the leftist Sandinista candidate. Mr. Ortega, who came to power in a violent revolution in 1979, was defeated in internationally supervised elections in February of 1990 by newspaper publisher Violeta Chamorro. He also failed in a comeback bid in 1996, losing to former Managua mayor Arnoldo Aleman.

Public opinion polls in recent weeks indicated that this race could have turned in his favor, however. Many voters were upset by the perception of widespread corruption in the Aleman government. Even candidate Bolanos, who had served as vice president with Mr. Aleman, tried to distance himself from the government in his campaign.

Mr. Ortega also tried to soften his image, presenting himself as a changed man who would no longer follow the repressive policies of his government in the 1980s. He also said he would seek good relations with the United States, a country his party once labeled as "enemy of the world." U.S. officials, including the ambassador to Nicaragua, made no secret of their disdain for Mr. Ortega.

Enrique Bolanos used this in his campaign, suggesting that Mr. Ortega would again make Nicaragua a haven for terrorists. One television ad run by Bolanos supporters used the image of the burning World Trade Center to make its point.

Supporters of Daniel Ortega dismissed such ads as scare tactics. Even some former foes of the Sandinista rebel leader defended him, noting that he had changed and that times had changed as well. With the end of the cold war and with Nicaragua mired in poverty and dependent on international lenders, they said, Mr. Ortega would have had to maintain good relations with the United States.

President Bush said he would work with whichever candidate won the election and U.S. congressmen here to observe the process also said that they would respect the results of what they said was clearly a free and fair electoral process. Now that the election is over and Mr. Ortega has apparently lost, the question of how a new Sandinista government would be accepted has become moot.