November 5, 2001

Ortega seeks comeback in Nicaragua

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) --Eleven years after losing power in an election,
Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega ran for Nicaragua's presidency Sunday and had a
strong chance to win despite U.S. efforts to dent his campaign.

Voters stood in line for hours throughout the country of about 5 million people.
Some polling places opened hours behind schedule amid organizational problems,
and voters at some were still waiting to cast ballots more than 51/2 hours after the
polls were supposed to close.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined thousands of local and foreign monitors
scattered across Nicaragua to watch the voting in a country where political passions
still run high in the wake of a civil war that ended in 1990 -- the same year Ortega
was voted out.

Once a socialist revolutionary who wore olive green uniforms, Ortega, 55,
campaigned in pink shirts and with the slogan "the path of love."

It was meant to help overcome the bitterness many still feel toward his earlier
government, which confiscated property, jailed opponents and drafted tens of
thousands to fight U.S.-backed rebels while trying to bring jobs and food for all.

Ortega faced Enrique Bolanos, 73, of the governing Constitutionalist Liberal party in
the contest for a five-year term. The former vice president saw most of his property
confiscated by the Sandinistas during the 1980s.

Threat of violence

Officials said first results might not arrive until well after midnight. The law bars
release of independent exit polls or quick counts before official results are offered.
Pre-election opinion polls showed the race in a dead heat, but ruling party members
were increasingly in a celebratory mood early Monday.

"We are happy with the results," party official Wilfredo Navarro told state-run Radio

With polls opening late, long lines formed. Claiming a threat of Sandinista violence,
outgoing President Arnoldo Aleman said he would not hesitate to decree a state of
emergency if disturbances broke out during voting.

The polls stopped accepting new voters at 6 p.m., but people were still in line as
midnight neared. Partisan radio stations urged voters to stay in line and broadcast
warnings saying the law mandates jail for election officials who close polls before
everyone in line has voted.

"I was struck by the fact that in nearly every single village we could see long lines of
people who were waiting to vote," said U.S. Rep. David Dreier, a California
Republican who was part of a congressional observation group that toured the
country by helicopter.

Ortega suggested Saturday that Aleman could be preparing to annul the elections if
they go against his party.

"We ask God to enlighten the president to avoid causing fear in the population,"
Ortega said as he voted. "I call on our brother Sandinistas to not let them provoke
us" to violence.

Promise to fight corruption

Carter told a news conference that it "is not acceptable" to declare a state of
emergency if there is merely a close vote. But the former U.S. president, who also
monitored the 1990 and 1996 elections here predicted it would be a fair election.

Bolanos promises to continue the free-market policies of Aleman, but with a greater
emphasis on fighting corruption. Allegations of shady dealings stained the reputation
of the outgoing government.

Both Ortega and Bolanos also have promised to revise the constitutional amendments
that put the supreme court, electoral council and other agencies in partisan political
hands and that blocked most of the country's political parties from reaching the

Ortega, too, has vowed to respect private property and free speech and said that the
vice presidency, foreign ministry and attorney general's posts would go to prominent
figures who were imprisoned by the Sandinistas in the 1980s.

But U.S. officials openly tilted against him, expressing concern about his party's past
ties to terrorists and its past socialist policies.

While the overall economy has grown over the past three years, little of that has
reached the poorest Nicaraguans. Millions live on about a dollar a day.

Those problems will continue to face any new government.

While Aleman's government has increased foreign investment, it remains saddled
with a $4 billion foreign debt and is unlikely to meet financial targets agreed upon
with the International Monetary Fund as a condition for more debt relief.

Top income sources -- coffee, tourism, assembly plants and money sent from
Nicaraguans working abroad -- have all slumped recently. Foreign reserves have
dropped sharply, leaving Nicaragua with less than three weeks of reserve coverage
for imports.

 Copyright 2001 The Associated Press