Sandinista's Ortega leads race for Nicaragua presidency

Leftist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had a strong lead over four other candidates after a Nicaragua election that could return the leftist to power 16 years after a US-backed rebellion helped force him from office.

With a little over 7% of polling stations counted, Ortega had 41% to 33% for Harvard-educated Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, a party that broke from the ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party after former President Arnoldo Aleman was convicted of corruption.

Trailing behind were Sandinista dissident Edmundo Jarquin, ruling party candidate Jose Rizo and former Contra rebel Eden Pastora

Ortega needs 35% of the vote and an advantage of five percentage points over his closest rival to avoid a runoff in December.

Yesterday’s election has become a tug-of-war issue between rivals Venezuela and the United States.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a US foe, has openly favoured his “brother” Ortega, while Washington remains openly wary of the balding 60-year-old, once an iconic figure of the Latin American left and ally of the Soviet Union.

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