The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega wins third consecutive term amid questions about democracy

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and his wife and running mate Rosario Murillo. (Esteban Felix/AP)

This post has been updated.

MEXICO CITY — President Daniel Ortega cruised to victory and a third consecutive term in Nicaragua, capturing more than 72 percent of the vote in an election that opponents had condemned as undemocratic, according to figures announced Monday.

The win puts Ortega, the 70-year-old former Marxist guerrilla, in line for his fourth presidential term — a total of a quarter century leading Nicaragua — since he helped the Sandinistas in 1979 overthrow the Somoza family that had ruled for the previous four decades. His wife, Rosario Murillo, will be vice president.

After voting, Ortega described the electoral process as “totally unprecedented.”

For many Nicaragua observers, the story was about the process — one that has looked increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian as Ortega has consolidated power over his many years in office. Over the summer, the Supreme Court blocked a leading opposition candidate from participating in the election, while the Supreme Electoral Council, another body seen as loyal to Ortega, forced 16 opposition lawmakers out of their seats. Changes to the constitution in 2014 eliminated term limits, allowing Ortega to rule indefinitely.

“This election is not free, it is not transparent, nor is it competitive,” said Carlos F. Chamorro, the publisher of the independent magazine Confidencial before the vote. “This is not a true election.”

Ortega remains a popular figure. The results announced Monday showed that Ortega had captured 1.8 million votes, with the next closest candidate, Maximino Rodriguez, winning 373,000., with more than 99 percent of the votes counted. The Supreme Electoral Council said that 68.2 percent of voters turned out, while the opposition disputed that figure, claiming that more than 70 percent of Nicaraguans chose not to vote.

During Ortega's tenure, poverty levels have fallen, and the gang violence so rampant in other Central American countries has been far more contained. Ortega has developed a pro-business reputation, and the economy has grown by an average of more than 5 percent over the past five years, surpassing many others in Latin America.

But the achievements have been matched by growing concern over authoritarian tendencies. Most of the media in Nicaragua is controlled by the government. Ortega's family members hold key positions of power. For a man who came to prominence opposing an oligarchic dynasty, many see a bitter irony in his evolution.

“I think populist presidents are frequently tempted to do this” consolidation of power, said Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organization that focuses on human rights issues in Latin America. “He's reverted to this form, and it is very troubling.”

Last month, several opposition figures wrote to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, arguing that Ortega's government has “demolished one by one the pillars of representative democracy,” by removing elected officials, banning political groups, and other actions.

“The immense majority of Nicaraguans, including the most fervent partisans of this regime, know clearly that on November 6, there will not be elections in Nicaragua but an electoral farce in which the results . . . are already determined,” they wrote.

Read more:

An even more depressing election than our own

Mexico officials are planning for economic turmoil if Trump wins