Ortega Concedes Defeat in Nicaraguan Election
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- A 73-year-old businessman who suffered expropriation
and prison under the Sandinistas won
Nicaragua's presidency over Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who was trying to make a comeback 11 years after losing power.
Ortega conceded defeat Monday in his third consecutive election defeat,
and supporters of the victorious Liberal Party candidate,
Enrique Bolanos, chanted ``Strikeout! Strikeout!'' as they celebrated.
``We accept the mandate of the people and congratulate the Liberal ticket,'' Ortega said.
He vowed to continue working for national reconciliation and for a free-market
economy from within the National Assembly, for his
Sandinista party, which retains a solid core of support in Nicaragua.
``We are going to support the governability of the country from our strong position in opposition,'' Ortega said.
True to his attempts to win better relations with the United States,
Ortega did not mention the role the U.S. government may have played
in his defeat when it warned of an Ortega victory, invited Bolanos to hand out donated U.S. food and pressured a third candidate to leave
Ortega's concession speech came with only 5.4 percent of the vote counted.
Later, with 13 percent of the vote tallied, the Supreme
Electoral Council showed Bolanos with 53.7 percent compared to Ortega's 44.7 percent.
In Sunday's election, an enormous turnout overwhelmed an inefficient
election bureaucracy. Some voters were still waiting in line at 11:30
p.m., more than five hours after polls were scheduled to close.
But the peacefulness of the election belied claims by outgoing President
Arnoldo Aleman that Ortega's supporters had planned
election-day violence. Following Aleman's victory over Ortega in 1997, pro-Sandinista students attacked police with rocks and
homemade bombs and mortars.
After the Sandinista National Liberation Front came to power in a 1979
revolution, it confiscated Bolanos' farm service company. As
head of the country's main business chamber, he became a fierce critic of Ortega and was imprisoned.
His campaign repeatedly reminded voters of the grim side of the Sandinistas'
1979-90 rule: long food lines, a muzzled press and coffins
carrying the bodies of draftees in a war against U.S.-backed Contra rebels.
That apparently overcame Ortega's ``path of love'' campaign, which featured
pink posters adorned with flowers in an attempt to reach
out to non-Sandinista critics of Aleman's government.
Bolanos, who was vice president before resigning to run for the presidency,
inherits an economy that is struggling under heavy debts and
with losses caused by the global economic slowdown.
After taking office in January, he may also clash with Aleman, who hand-picked
the Liberal candidates for congress. Aleman is expected
to lead the congressional delegation because of a law he oversaw that gives former presidents an automatic seat in congress -- and
immunity from legal action.
Aleman's admitted wealth has multiplied many times over since he began
public service as mayor of Managua in 1990, and critics accuse
him of corruption, which he denies.
During his campaign, Bolanos vowed to fight corruption wherever it might be found, saying that ``immunity should not be impunity.''
Voters had relatively little choice in the election. Under a Liberal-Sandinista
deal that reformed the constitution, third parties were severely
restricted and key posts divided up on a partisan basis.
Several parties or candidates that appeared to meet the tough conditions
for reaching the ballot were improperly disqualified by the
politicized electoral board, according to the independent analyst group Ethics and Transparency.
Ortega, 55, vowed that his electoral alliance with non-Sandinista parties
would continue, apparently mapping out a long-term strategy to
position the Sandinistas as a peaceful, democratic, left-of-center political party.