Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who fought US-backed insurgents in the 1980s, has won presidential elections in Nicaragua.
His rival Harvard-educated Eduardo Montealegre conceded defeat yesterday following the latest tally from the Sunday polls. Appearing next to Ortega, he said: “Nicaragua needs to move forward. The people have suffered enough.”
Ortega said he would work to eliminate poverty, reassure investors and “create a new political culture” that would ”set aside our differences and put the Nicaraguan people, the poor first".
“We are showing the country that things are stable, that we can set aside our political positions and put first our commitment to pull Nicaragua out of poverty.”
With 91% of the vote counted, Ortega had 38% compared to 29% for Montealegre. Under Nicaraguan law, the winner of Sunday’s election must have 35% of the vote and a five percentage-point lead to win outright and avoid a runoff.
Ortega supporters filled the streets, waving black-and-red party flags and singing Ortega’s peace-and-reconciliation campaign song, set to the tune of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance.
Earlier, Montealegre said he and his party would spend the next five years ensuring that Ortega stayed true to his pledges to promote private business, allow a free press and battle widespread poverty.
“I promise to lead the democratic fight for the values and principles that began with this campaign,” he said. ”This battle hasn’t only been for the presidency, but to transform Nicaragua.”
Montealegre’s newly formed Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance emerged as the strongest opposition party in Congress, with 27% of the vote compared to 38% for the Sandinistas.
Montealegre founded the party after breaking away from the Constitutionalist Liberal Party of former President Arnoldo Aleman, who was convicted of corruption during his 1997-2002 term. Aleman and Ortega formed a political pact to help fight the charges against the former leader.
Ortega spent most of the 1980s fighting a US-backed Contra insurgency. He lost the presidency in the 1990 election, ending Sandinista rule and years of civil war, and has spent the past 16 years trying to get his old job back.
The US, which warned against an Ortega win, has declined to comment on the results.
But former US President Jimmy Carter, who served as an election observer, said yesterday that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “assured me that no matter who was elected, the US will respond positively and favourably.”
Rice’s office confirmed that the two talked by phone, but refused to give details.
With the Cold War icon’s victory, Nicaragua joined the list of Latin American nations with leftists at the helm.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has tried to help Ortega by shipping discounted oil to the poor, energy-starved nation.
“Latin America is ceasing to be – and forever – a backyard of US imperialism. Yankee, go home!” Chavez said yesterday.
Ortega, who served as president from 1985-90, toned down his once-fiery rhetoric during the campaign, promising to support a regional free trade agreement with the US and maintain good relations with Washington.
He says he has changed profoundly since he befriended Soviet leaders, expropriated land and fought Contra rebels in a war that left 30,000 dead and the economy in shambles.