Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega seeks a fourth consecutive term in elections Sunday against a field of little-known candidates while those who could have given him a real challenge sit in jail.
The opposition has called on Nicaraguans to stay home in protest of an electoral process that has been roundly criticized as not credible by foreign powers.
Sunday’s election will determine who holds the presidency for the next five years, as well as 90 of the 92 seats in the country’s congress and Nicaragua’s representation in the Central American Parliament.
Ortega’s Sandinista Front and its allies control the congress and all government institutions. Ortega first served as president from 1985 to 1990, before returning to power in 2007. He recently declared his wife first lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo “co-president.”
In June, police arrested seven potential presidential challengers on charges that essentially amount to treason. They remained in detention on election day. Some two dozen other opposition leaders were also swept up ahead of the elections.
The other contenders on Sunday’s ballot are little known politicians from minor parties seen as friendly with Ortega’s Sandinista Front.
With little doubt as to the presidential election result, focus is already turning to what the international response will be as Ortega seeks to tighten his grip on power.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions against those in Ortega’s inner circle, but Ortega responded only by arresting more of his opponents.
On Friday, a senior U.S. State Department official, who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government was willing to consider additional targeted sanctions, but had tried to avoid measures that would more broadly impact the Nicaraguan people.
“It is very hard when you have a government that has very minimal goals that include remaining in power at any cost and disregarding the will of their own citizens or the needs of the citizens to retain that power,” the official said.
The Organization of American States has condemned Nicaragua’s holding of political prisoners and unwillingness to hold free and fair elections, but Ortega’s government has only railed against foreign interference.
The regional body will hold its annual general assembly in Guatemala later this week. Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico were among seven countries that abstained from a vote on a resolution last month in the OAS condemning the repression in Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua, polls were scheduled to close at 6 p.m. Sunday and the Supreme Electoral Council said the first partial results would be released around midnight. Provisional vote totals are expected Monday.
Some 30,000 police and soldiers were deployed to secure voting, according to the government.