November 5, 2001

Nicaraguan right claims poll victory

MANAGUA, Nicaragua --Nicaragua's conservative ruling party have taken the lead
over leftist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega as early official results from Sunday's
presidential election emerged.

Roberto Rivas, president of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, said results
were in from five percent of polling stations.

They showed that ruling Liberal Party candidate Enrique Bolanos scored 53 percent
support while Ortega trailed with 45.35 percent.

Unofficial reports said that a "quick count" carried out by an independent observer
group showed that Bolanos was headed for certain victory, Reuters said.

Bolanos, 73, is a former vice president who saw most of his businesses confiscated
during the Sandinista era.

Liberal Party supporters began their celebrations early on Monday.

Ortega swept to power in a 1979 revolution and his socialist government then fought
U.S.-backed Contra rebels in a bitter civil war that killed some 30,000 people in the

He was ousted from office in 1990 elections and lost again six years later, but he
kept control of his Sandinista party and, with the country in economic crisis, opinion
polls had showed him running neck and neck with Bolanos going into Sunday's

Election turnout was so great that election officials said some voters were still
queued up to cast ballots at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday -- five-and-a-half hours after the
lines to vote were closed nationwide.

"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.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was among thousands of local and foreign poll
watchers scattered across the nation of 5 million people to monitor what was
expected to be a tight and tense election.

Once a socialist revolutionary who wore olive-green uniforms as president, Ortega
sought to soften his image, campaigning in pink shirts and with the slogan "the path
of love."

His earlier governments followed socialist policies, confiscating property, jailing
opponents and drafting tens of thousands of youths to fight U.S.-backed rebels
while trying to bring jobs and food for all.

Ortega has vowed to follow market-based policies and to seek good relations with
the United States.

He said his government would include several people who had been jailed by the
Sandinista government of 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.

Bolanos promised to continue the free-market policies of outgoing President Arnoldo
Aleman, but with a greater emphasis on fighting corruption.

Under a Liberal-Sandinista deal that reformed the constitution, third parties were
severely restricted and key posts divided up on a partisan basis.

The pact also means Aleman, as former president, becomes a member of the
country's congress -- with legal immunity from prosecution.

The new president's first task will be to tackle economic troubles in a country with a
per capita income of about $430 a year. Millions live on about a dollar a day.

Aleman's government has increased foreign investment, but 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.

Slumping world markets, a slowing global economy and the terror attacks against
the United States have hurt Nicaragua's top income sources: coffee, tourism,
assembly plants and remittances from Nicaraguans abroad.