Written by Staff Writer
(CNN) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has won a fourth term in office in the country’s presidential elections, a close race that observers say fell short of the democratic standards needed for an election to be considered credible.
Saturday’s result, announced by the Nicaraguan Electoral Council, saw Ortega, 71, win 60.56% of the vote compared to challenger Jimmy Morales’ 38.44%, with 76% of the votes counted.
“We’ve been very clear for several years that democracy is not defined by the electoral process and the vote. It is defined by the people’s participation, and they’ve been very engaged, they’ve been very interested, they’ve been very active,” Leah Limani, the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Nicaragua, told CNN.
“I’m certain that any future government will hear clearly from the American people and President Trump, who clearly support democracy,” she added.
Ortega, who has had a turbulent relationship with the United States for years, was favored to win the vote, but Morales had been widely seen as the main threat to the power and influence of Ortega, who has been in power for a decade and has worked closely with China during this time.
International election observers from the Organisation of American States said the vote fell short of democratic standards, and called on local and international observers to be more vigilant, referring to the poll as a “parody of elections.”
Government corruption, mounting debt and low confidence in institutions have led to a civil war of sorts between the government and protest groups — one that has left at least 245 people dead.
In recent years, the rights group Amnesty International has said that there has been a “dramatic deterioration” in human rights in Nicaragua. The group said that 40% of the population has suffered physically because of “the undemocratic rule of President Ortega and his corrupt administration.”
“It’s a terrible sign that Ortega won on a scale that doesn’t warrant a victory for anyone. The victory margin, in fact, shows just how bad this is, and shows how the Nicaraguan authorities and their allies in the international system will cheat any way they can,” said Thomas Phillips, Amnesty International Central America’s Deputy Director, in a press release.
Ahead of the election, Ortega’s Sandinista party hit back at charges of vote fraud, accusing “unofficial bodies from the United States of sowing instability, domestic and international, in Nicaragua.”
Ortega also announced this month he was resuming a plan to sell military arms from Nicaragua to Ecuador.
Ortega was first elected president in 1979 and served until 1990. He was re-elected in 2007, 2011 and 2016.
The candidate who drew the most votes in the first round of the elections, ex-beauty queen and entrepreneur Rosario Murillo, who is the wife of Ortega, was named the Vice President on the ticket with Ortega.
“The shift of power from Ortega’s rival to his wife and daughter in the first round of the presidential elections opened up a risk of a deepening family dictatorship in Nicaragua. But it was the people who rid their country of that threat,” said a Human Rights Watch statement.
CNN’s Pedro Armesto contributed to this report.
– HLN’N Stories