Conservative populist Arnoldo Aleman, armed with a commanding lead in Nicaragua’s presidential race, proclaimed victory Monday and vowed to govern the deeply polarized nation “for all Nicaraguans.”
But Aleman’s main opponent, former President Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, declared he will not accept the election results, alleging widespread irregularities in counting.
While Ortega said he is not challenging the Supreme Electoral Council’s authority, he demanded that results from each of the 9,000 voting stations be compared with the counts relayed to the council to make sure it got accurate information.
Ortega’s announcement added an element of tension, but Ortega seemed unlikely to find much backing or to alter the outcome. Brian Atwood, President Clinton’s envoy to monitor the elections, along with former President Jimmy Carter, the European Union and a Nicaraguan monitoring group, all had declared the elections fraud-free before Ortega announced his objections.
“We wanted to immediately recognize the results given by the council and are sorry we cannot,” said Ortega, who governed Nicaragua from 1979-1990 as a Marxist allied with Cuba. “We are not questioning the authority of the council, but there are serious anomalies that need to be investigated.”
With 46 percent of the ballots counted, the Supreme Electoral Council said Aleman had won 48.3 percent of the vote, while Ortega had 39.1 percent. The remaining votes were divided among 23 other candidates. To avoid a runoff, a candidate needed to win at least 45 percent.
The election represented the first time in Nicaraguan history that one democratically elected government has allowed its successor to be chosen democratically.
In the end, political analysts said, the vote seemed to come down to fear: Fear of a Sandinista return - and with it war, confrontation with the United States and hyper-inflation - outweighed fear that Aleman has surrounded himself with associates of former right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza and that Aleman will prove to be intolerant.
“I invite everyone from the other political parties - from those that finished in second place to last place - to join forces,” Aleman said after claiming victory. “Nicaragua needs all of us to leave the past behind.”
The vote count was slowed by the complexity of the election, which used six separate ballots to choose not only the president but also Parliament, mayors and representatives to the Central American Parliament. Despite having to stand in line for hours Sunday to vote and despite numerous logistical problems, 83 percent of the population voted, election officials estimated.
Until Ortega’s statement, the broad margin of Aleman’s victory had eased fears that the logistical problems would provide grounds for the loser to challenge the results.
“What observers always pray for is a clear victory,” said Carter, who led a bipartisan observer delegation with former Secretary of State James Baker III.