Managua mayor Sánchez cited his work restoring city services as he was declared winner of hotly contested presidential election
Nicaragua’s scandal-ridden ruling party has won presidential elections that international observers said lacked transparency but the incumbent president, Daniel Ortega, was declared the winner.
In an election where the government had banned journalists from covering sensitive parts of the campaign, a man who worked for 20 years to improve the city’s rotting infrastructure was declared victorious.
Managua mayor Sánchez cited his work restoring city services as he was declared the winner of the hotly contested election that observers said lacked transparency but the incumbent president, Daniel Ortega, was declared the winner.
“We’ve proven that the Nicaraguan citizen wants development and that it is possible to achieve it without using violence,” said Sánchez, who defeated Sergio Ramirez, a former Sandinista leader and fierce critic of Ortega.
Sánchez won around 43% of the vote to Ramirez’s 27%, but Ortega is expected to have a lead of several percentage points over former first lady Xiomara Castro, a key coalition partner in his Sandinista National Liberation Front.
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Ramirez congratulated Sánchez and requested a recount, a move that is unlikely to deter Ortega from taking office. A recount would take three to four weeks to begin, according to the Nicaragua’s secretary general, Rosario Murillo.
Castro, who did not actively campaign, issued a statement late on Sunday night accusing Sánchez of trying to make “hysterical” claims that she had won.
Castro – Ortega’s wife and a member of the leftist Sandinista Revolution – declined to join him on stage in Managua after the results.
The World Democratic Institute, which conducted the only internationally observed election, said Ortega’s chances of remaining in power had been strengthened by voters’ “narrow choices”, but said the limited transparency of the vote had undermined confidence in its results.
Ortega was first elected president in 1979 while still a rebel in the Sandinista struggle against the US-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. He returned to office as the socialist Sandinista government ruled from the 1980s until his 1990 election.
He reclaimed power for a second and final term in 2006. His re-election in 2016 sparked days of political protests, violence that left more than 200 people dead. He was re-elected with an 84% majority.
This year’s election was marked by a summer of protests after Ortega proposed raising the minimum wage and his decision to replace the country’s chief prosecutor, who had risen to prominence as a leader of the 2011 civil unrest, which prompted the United States to cut aid.
As protests splintered across different sectors of society, the Sandinista party tried to unite its diversity into an electoral coalition, led by the ruling party, to stem the flow of dissatisfied voters.
Ortega also benefited from increasing concern about the security and economic crises on the country’s southern border with Honduras and Costa Rica.
Ortega’s closest rival in a first round of voting on 30 September, the former Sandinista mayor Arbenz Uniraj, was struck from the ballot for irregularities.
Despite protests, its force fizzled, leaving an electoral map where hardly anything moved.