MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega, the revolutionary Marxist who battled a
US-backed Contra insurgency in the 1980s, was closing in on Nicaragua's
presidency, appearing Monday to have defeated four opponents with promises that
he was a changed man.
Electoral officials had yet to release
final results from Sunday's vote, but preliminary results and two of the
country's top electoral watchdog groups all gave Ortega about 40 percent of the
vote. That was more than enough to avoid a runoff against Harvard-educated
banker Eduardo Montealegre, who trailed by at least seven percentage points.
Nicaragua presidential candidate
Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) waves to
the press as he arrives for a private meeting with former US president
Jimmy Carter in the city of Managua, Nicaragua on Monday Nov. 6, 2006.
Former Contra rebel and last-place presidential candidate Eden Pastora
admitted defeat Monday. But the other three candidates refused to recognize
Ortega's victory, saying they would wait until all the votes had been counted.
The United States, which has threatened to pull aid from an Ortega government,
also said it was too soon to declare the Sandinista leader a winner.
"This isn't over until the last vote has been counted," Montealegre said.
If his victory is confirmed, the Cold War icon would join a growing number of
leftist Latin American rulers, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has tried to
help his Nicaraguan ally by shipping cheap oil to the poor, energy-starved
"This is good for the people of Nicaragua and for the integration of Latin
America," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told The Associated Press
Ortega's supporters celebrated in the streets Monday, with caravans of
hundreds of cars filing into the capital, honking, waving party flags and
blasting the Sandinista campaign song, set to the tune of John Lennon's "Give
Peace a Chance."
Ortega met Monday evening with former President Jimmy Carter, who served as
an election observer. But Ortega did not declare victory, saying "no one wins
until the electoral council says so."
Herberto Jose Lopez, who earns about $235 a month selling CDs from a kiosk,
said Monday he voted for Ortega in hopes that he would help Nicaragua's poor.
"I've got a wife and kid and I'm lucky because I have a job, but most people
will tell you the same thing: The current administration just governs for the
guys in ties," said the 32-year-old Lopez.
Some Nicaraguans worried that an Ortega win would drive away the country's
business leaders and elite, as they did the first time he came to power.
"We're just trying to figure out which country to go to," said 27-year-old
Karen Sandoval, a Coca-Cola marketer shopping with a friend at an upscale
Managua mall. "This sets the country back 20 years."