Electoral campaigns for Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections closed on Wednesday night, with polls predicting that incumbent president Daniel Ortega will win another term. According to the latest Cid Gallup poll, Ortega, of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) party, leads with 48 percent of the voting intention. His nearest rival, 79-year-old Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI), trails at 30 percent. Former president Arnoldo Alemán (1997–2002) comes in third at 11 percent. According to Nicaraguan electoral law, a presidential candidate wins the election with a 40 percent plurality of votes, or 35 percent with a 5 percentage-point lead over the second-place candidate.
Ortega’s high popularity at home is due in large part to an economy that has stabilized during his first term and is experiencing comparatively high growth for the region (next to Panama, it had the fastest growth in Central America in 2010). In addition, thanks to half a billion dollars a year in low-interest, long-term loans from Venezuela, Ortega’s government has given out generous subsidies for transport and electricity and increased spending on social programs, including an update of the land registry and anti-hunger measures.
Even as Ortega is poised to win, his running for office poses constitutional questions. Nicaragua’s constitution bans any president from serving more than two terms, or serving consecutive terms; Ortega, who served as president from 1979 – 1990 and returned to power in 2007, is barred on both accounts. Yet in 2009 Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, the Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE), declared that the law did not apply to Ortega.
In addition, Sunday’s voting, which includes elections for legislative positions in addition to those of the president and vice president, has already been fraught with claims of wrongdoing. The government has been slow and selective in distributing cedulas, identity cards used for voting, and it is not allowing full international observation of the elections—only “accompaniment” by EU and Organization of American States delegates. The CSE has not accredited any domestic civil society organizations to monitor the elections, a move criticised by the EU and OAS.