Nicaragua’s Ortega seeks reelection with opponents in jail

A man waits for a public transportation bus next to a stand that sells T-shirts, flags and hats, with a Sandinista theme, at a bus stop in Managua, Nicaragua on Nov 3, 2021.(ANDRES NUNEZ / AP)

Nicaraguans vote on Sunday in a presidential election marked by longtime President Daniel Ortega's campaign to extend his stay in power in a contest the United States has dismissed as a sham.

Ortega, a onetime guerrilla who helped depose a right-wing family dictatorship in 1979, is almost certain to get a fourth straight term, with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to prolong his status as the Americas' longest-serving leader.

Ortega, a onetime guerrilla who helped depose a right-wing family dictatorship in 1979, is almost certain to get a fourth straight term, with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to prolong his status as the Americas' longest-serving leader

President in the 1980s before losing in a 1990 upset, Ortega returned to the top job again in 2007.

Since May, Ortega's police have imprisoned nearly 40 leading opposition figures, including seven presidential candidates, as well as prominent business leaders, journalists and even some of his former rebel allies.

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Ortega's only opposition on the ballot comes from five less-known candidates of small allied parties.

Also up for grabs are 92 seats in the unicameral Congress, also firmly controlled by his allies. About 4.5 million Nicaraguans are eligible to vote.

Ortega, a Cold War-era US antagonist and rebel in the toppling of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, brushes off international criticism, saying Nicaragua must fight imperialists and that sanctions will not defeat him.

While most analysts agree that Ortega is likely to prevail in the near term, they also say prolonged unrest could drive new waves of fleeing Nicaraguans.

Many have gone either to southern neighbor Costa Rica, or sought to reach the US border, pushed by an economic slump prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: 5 govt critics jailed as political crisis in Nicaragua deepens

Gross domestic product shrank nearly 9 percent from 2018 to 2020, compared to robust average growth of almost 4 percent since 2000.