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In Nicaragua, Ortega Poised For Re-Election


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

It's Election Day in Nicaragua where President Daniel Ortega is running for an unprecedented third term. The country's constitution sets a two-term limit, but the Supreme Court declared that unconstitutional. The longtime Sandinistan leader has been leading in the polls. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Managua.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Lines started forming outside some voting stations here at 4:30 this morning even though the polls didn't open until seven. Most of the early voting was among the hard-core party faithful in what has become an extremely polarized election. Daniel Ortega's critics say his candidacy is illegal, but the former Marxist guerrilla won a judicial ruling that he claims gives him the right to run again. And among his Sandinista supporters, Ortega's bid for a third term was eagerly welcomed.

IRAN SANCHEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Just outside a school where balloting is being held, 53-year-old Iran Sanchez says El Comandante Daniel Ortega is the only president for Nicaragua. Sanchez lists off all the benefits Ortega has given Nicaraguans during his last five years in office: cash payments to the poor, interest free loans, free health care, expanded free public education. And Sanchez says he's stabilized the country's electricity system.

SANCHEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Here, there used to be blackouts that would last up to 14 hours, Sanchez says. But once Ortega came into office in 2006, the blackouts ended completely. Even Ortega's opponents agree that the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front gives a lot. He passes out houses and has a hugely popular program to distribute sheets of metal roofing material. His critics, however, say that Ortega's largesse flows mainly and at times exclusively to his Sandinista supporters.

Michele Miranda, who was just leaving the polls, says in Nicaragua, voters aren't searching for who's the best possible leader for the country. She says, instead, they're looking at what they could get or lose if a particular candidate is elected.

MICHELE MIRANDA: What happens is that right now, most poor people are getting some stuff, that they might be afraid that if another person comes to the presidency, they can, you know, take away those things.

BEAUBIEN: Miranda says this is causing a lot of tension right now in Nicaragua. She says the Sandinista government isn't giving to the people to create a better society, it's giving in order to retain the support of its political base. Preliminary results are expected later tonight. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Managua. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.