(Updated with complaints of detention of opponents)
By Diego Oré and Daina Beth Solomon
Nov 7 (Reuters) – Nicaraguans came out to vote on Sunday in a general election widely questioned by the international community and that, most likely, will end with a triumph of the current president, Daniel Ortega, who would extend his term, at least, until January of 2027.
After arresting some thirty opponents, including seven candidates for the presidency, Ortega paved the way for a fourth consecutive term and extend his streak as the longest-serving living president in America.
Five candidates compete against Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo. However, analysts and opponents believe that they have lent themselves to what they called an electoral “farce.” The same occurs with the Congress – controlled by the ruling party – which will also be renewed.
Election day, for which almost 4.5 million Nicaraguans are registered, started at 7:00 local time (1300 GMT) and will end at 18:00 local time (0000 GMT on Monday). Reuters witnesses witnessed lines of citizens to vote.
However, opposition groups, which have called for abstention, shared images of deserted streets and voting centers on social media.
“Daniel Ortega will claim a fourth consecutive presidential term on Sunday under widely discredited elections. His victory will only have been possible by locking up his competitors,” said Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based NGO.
“More instability and repression will spark a new wave of migration, both south and north of the border with the United States. The question is not what happens on November 7, but how strongly the United States and other democracies respond on November 8. “he added.
During the week, the government of President Joe Biden said it was willing to impose more sanctions against the Ortega and Murillo administration. In addition, Washington has initiated a review of Nicaragua’s participation in a free trade agreement with Central America (DR-CAFTA).
Ortega, who has justified the wave of arrests by assuring that those apprehended seek to “overthrow” him, said in June that the sanctions would not subdue his administration and analysts believe that, despite isolating the country even more, they would not result in a change of government. Nor has it happened in Cuba and Venezuela, where the West has imposed punishments.
In the last hours, the two largest opposition groups – the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White National Unity – denounced “harassment, surveillance, threats” and arrests of some of their regional leaders.
“In the middle of the electoral farce in Nicaragua, from the National Unit we demand the release of all the kidnapped people, including three of our members who were arbitrarily detained by the police yesterday (Saturday),” the group wrote in its account of Twitter
The anti-government protests of April 2018 and the subsequent coronavirus pandemic hit the Nicaraguan economy, also putting pressure on migration to Costa Rica and the north.
Between 2018 and 2020, the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the largest country in Central America fell by an accumulated 8.8%. Between 2000 and 2017, GDP averaged a 3.9% rise, boosted by remittances and foreign direct investment.
Since the last presidential elections, in 2016, Ortega abolished presidential term limits, expanded his family’s business empire https://www.reuters.com/article/politica-nicaragua-ortega-idESKBN2831EF and accumulated pressure on the independent press. In recent months, he has jailed opposition candidates, activists, journalists and business leaders, while he has forced other critics into exile.
Murillo, 70, is the first in the line of succession to finish Ortega’s term if the 75-year-old commander fails to carry it out. In recent years, various rumors have circulated among opponents and diplomats that the president suffers from a chronic illness.
Since taking office as vice president in 2017, Murillo has been grabbing more power and today she is the exclusive spokesperson for the Government.
“After November 7 … the objective (of the presidential couple) will become more related to ensuring a certain type of governance of the mandate for the next few years,” said Tiziano Breda, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
Breda believes that the tandem will negotiate with business sectors to reactivate the economy, seeking a stabilizing effect for its administration and normalizing society. Already in 2009, Ortega agreed on an atmosphere of coexistence with the main business associations in the country.
(Reporting by Diego Oré; Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Álvaro Murillo in San José; Edited by Rodrigo Charme)