MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega looks to be heading for an easy reelection to a 4th term this weekend, with his wife as his running mate.
Surveys credit the pair with more than 60% voter support for Sunday's (November 6) balloting, far ahead of their rivals.
But critics inside and outside the country are calling foul over tactics that have sidelined the opposition and restricted foreign scrutiny.
"The United States has repeatedly stated its serious concern about the shrinking democratic space and the lack of rule of law in Nicaragua," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
"A democratic election is not defined on election day only," he added. "It is a long process and it is the process that matters."
Gaspard Estrada of the Paris Institute of Political Studies agreed.
"This election is organized in the worst conditions possible," he said. "Nicaragua is a democracy without democrats."
Opposition groups are calling the elections a "farce" after a court order replaced the head of a key party with an Ortega-linked figure.
They are urging a boycott of the vote, which will also choose 90 lawmakers and 20 representatives in congress.
That will focus attention on turnout figures, with a Nicaraguan survey firm, M&R, predicting abstention will be around 25%, in line with previous elections.
One opposition leader, Violeta Granera, told reporters on Thursday, November 3, that "we are going to document with photos, videos and citizen complaints the population's rejection" of the vote.
But even many detractors acknowledge the broad public support for Ortega, a 70-year-old former Marxist rebel who first took the presidency in 1985, after the country's bloody left-wing revolution against a dictatorial dynasty.
After losing reelection, he spent 17 years agitating in opposition before finally making his comeback in 2006 and winning another new term in 2011.
His latest long stint at the helm has seen the country rack up strong economic growth, partly fueled by nearly $5 billion in credit and investment from Venezuela, a key ally now in crisis.
First Lady, or co-ruler?
Ortega developed social programs that have greatly reduced the number of poor – an important feat in what is still one of the poorest nations in the Americas. That earned him undying backing from much of the population.
But he has pulled back on his public appearances in recent years.
Instead, his wife Rosario Murillo, the government's chief spokesperson and given to wearing colorful clothes and jewelry, has become the face of the administration.
Her daily broadcasts on state media, delivered in a big-sister tone, espouse national unity and the government's dedication to the people.
She has also put her stamp on the capital Managua by having giant, multicolored metal "trees of life" sculptures erected, giving the center of the generally rundown city a distinctive zest.
Ortega is looking to elevate her to the post of his vice president this weekend.
Many believe the 65-year-old First Lady is in fact already co-ruler with Ortega, and that the promotion will only formalize the arrangement.
However, critics fear her new role is aimed at founding a new dynasty for Nicaragua.
Murillo is "a very active, very intelligent woman," said Michel Najlis, a theologian and poet.
But the problem is that "she is very ambitious and has few ethics." – Rappler.com