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by Jose Adan Silva

Waiting For The Death Truck In Nicaragua (2004)

(IPS) MANAGUA -- They swore they would return. And today, 16 years after losing their grip on power in national elections, Nicaragua's Sandinistas appear to have made it back, according to the preliminary results from Sunday's elections.

The leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front's (FSLN) presidential candidate Daniel Ortega took 40 percent of the vote, while the right-wing Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and Jose Rizo of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) garnered 33 and 20 percent, respectively, the Supreme Electoral Court announced after 40 percent of the votes were tallied.

Under Nicaraguan law, Ortega needs either 40 percent of the vote, or just 35 percent and a five-point lead over his nearest rival, to avoid a run-off.

The news that Ortega was ahead prompted FSLN supporters to take to the streets to celebrate, with flags, t-shirts and signs bearing Ortega's image, while singing protest songs and election jingles.

International election observers sent by the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union and the Carter Center (led by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter) said the elections went smoothly and were clean and transparent.

Only the mission of observers sent by the White House issued a statement reporting "anomalies."

Two local non-governmental election monitoring groups, the Institute for the Development of Democracy, and Ethics and Transparency, issued their own parallel counts, based on information gathered by more than 12,000 observers.

According to their results, former president Ortega (1985-1990) will score a first-round victory.

Ethics and Transparency gave Ortega 38.5 percent of the vote and a nearly 10 percent lead over Montealegre, said the group's president, Pablo Ayon.

The watchdog group said Montealegre took 29.5 percent, Rizo 24 percent, and Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renewal Movement, a dissident faction of the FSLN, 7.4 percent -- similar to the 7.5 percent reported by the official tally.

"We understand that some candidates have doubts and say they might have actually performed better, but our results, which no one can object to, will not be affected by the ‘irregularities' that were mentioned," Ayon told IPS.

The Institute for the Development of Democracy, meanwhile, said its findings showed that Ortega was ahead with 39 percent of the vote, while Montealegre took 29 percent and Rizo 25 percent.

"These are not official results, but we have all of the elements necessary to reliably state that these tendencies will not budge," Mauricio Zuniga, the head of the Institute, told IPS. "It must be recognized: Ortega won."

So far, the ALN and PLC candidates have refused to accept either the official or unofficial results, and have not ruled out the possibility of a "surprise" in the final count.

Montealegre is demanding a vote-by-vote recount -- something that is not provided for in Nicaragua's election laws.

The ALN candidate said that according to his own tally and those of "serious organizations," the outcome points to the need for a second round, and protested that "irregularities" were committed.

Rizo also called for a recount, even though the final tally has not even been completed.

"The PLC can't lose like this, the counting of our rural votes has not been completed, and we are not going to accept any winner until the very last vote is counted," said the party's spokesman Leonel Teller.

The 60-year-old Ortega first seized power in 1979 after the FSLN guerrillas overthrew the brutal Somoza family dictatorship -- which ruled the country for 40 years -- and established a revolutionary junta.

In 1984, Ortega ran for president and won the elections in the midst of a bloody war waged by the U.S.-financed "contras," which left more than 50,000 dead.

The armed conflict ended in 1990, when Ortega lost the elections to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who governed until 1997.

Ortega ran for president unsuccessfully in 1996 and 2001.

Sources with the FSLN campaign committee have said that no pronouncement will be made until the electoral court issues the final results.

Former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, one of the heads of the Carter Center observer mission, urged the candidates on Monday not to proclaim victory until at least 50 percent of the votes have been counted, and to keep their followers from celebrating "prematurely."

While the Sandinistas sang and danced in the streets, their critics expressed their concern in interviews with local radio and television stations.

"Good god, please tell me this is a nightmare. The ones who killed my family can't be making a comeback," a crying Rosa Marina Cuadra, who lives in the northern province of Jinotega, one of the areas hit hard by the civil war, told a local television station.

"Please, let's all stay calm, there is no need to reopen old wounds," Isaias Rodriguez, a member of the FSLN, told a local radio station. "The government of ‘Comandante' Daniel Ortega said it would respect all Nicaraguans, and that there would be no more war or confiscations; let's give it a chance."

Similar messages from either end of the spectrum were broadcast from all over the country.

Political analyst Carlos Tunnerman said whoever wins the elections must urgently call together all of the parties to take part in a "national dialogue."

"There is a sense of uncertainty; no one knows what to expect from a future with the FSLN in power. There is a fear of a repeat of things that happened in the past," he said.

The campaign was marked by heavy meddling from Washington, aimed at averting an Ortega victory.

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Albion Monitor   November 6, 2006   (

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