Sandinistas celebrate victory

As Sandinistas party, PLI calls vote count ‘unreal’ and pledges to count 'every last vote'

With early vote tallies showing a resounding reelection victory for President Daniel Ortega, thousands of Sandinista supporters took to the streets of Managua in the early morning hours Monday to celebrate their apparent triumph in a polling process that was riddled with irregularities and bouts of violence.

With nearly 16 percent of the ballots tallied, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced its second preliminary results at 1:50 a.m., showing Ortega with a monstrous lead with 63.9 percent of the vote, followed by Independent Liberal Party (PLI) candidate Fabio Gadea, with 29 percent. Trailing in a distant third is former President Arnoldo Alemán, struggling to hold on to 6 percent.

A parallel CSE vote count with 38.8 percent of the ballots tallied, showed Ortega with 62.6 percent and Gadea with 30.8 percent. The preliminary results for the legislative elections show the same trend, with the Sandinistas’ leading with 63 percent, the PLI in second with 29 percent and Alemán´s PLC in a faraway third with 6 percent.

The CSE’s third vote count, with 90 percent of the ballots tabulated, will be made Monday at noon, Rivas said.

Still counting: Eliseo Nuñez (photo/ Tim Rogers)

The PLI, however, is already crying foul. The opposition party says it refuses to accept the preliminary vote-count, which campaign manager Eliseo Nuñez calls “totally unreal.” Nuñez said the PLI’s parallel vote count shows Gadea practically tied with Ortega, each with 40-plus points. Nuñez said the PLI is still collecting its party’s official copies of the ballot tallies from voting stations across the country. He said he expects Gadea’s numbers to improve even more once the rural votes are tallied.

“We are going to count every last vote,” Nuñez said during a midnight press conference, following the CSE’s first preliminary vote count.

While Nuñez admits his party’s chances of finding an institutional solution are not good in a government controlled by Ortega, he says his party can still debunk the CSE’s results with their parallel count.

In quieter moments, the PLI strategist seems to acknowledge the possibility that his candidate lost the presidential elections, but he insists “it would be irresponsible” to make any official claims at this point because they are still in the hunt.

“According to our calculations, Ortega finished between 48-52 percent, and we are in the same range,” Nuñez told The Nicaragua Dispatch.

Neither Gadea nor Ortega have made a public appearance or commented on the preliminary results.

An election plagued with problems

The PLI says the elections were riddled with problems from the early morning hours to the late-night vote tallying.

“The whole process was plagued with irregularities,” Nuñez said. “Our accredited poll watchers were blocked from entering nearly 20 percent of the voting stations, and in another 10 percent of the polls they were forced out of the voting stations early because they didn’t want us to know the results.”

In those cases, Nuñez said, the PLI was able to get copies of the final vote tallies from PLC party members who supported their cause. “Thanks to the true liberals,” Nuñez said.

Reports from election observers echoed Nuñez’s criticisms of the electoral process.

Electoral watchdog Ethics and Transparency said the electoral process was so technically flawed that it didn’t meet the minimum international requirements to be considered a credible and transparent process.

Hagamos Democracia lists similar concerns. The EU observation mission said it won’t make any statements until later Monday.

The CSE’s Rivas, meanwhile, thought Sunday’s election was some of his best work ever. With the exception of 16 voting stations where election material was burned in protest, Rivas says Sunday’s vote was the “most tranquil” electoral process the country has ever experienced.

“There were some small obstacles, but they were insignificant for the magnitude of votes,” Rivas said.

International observers disagree. One veteran poll watcher who has observed every election in Nicaragua since 1990, and wished to remain nameless, told The Nicaragua Dispatch that yesterday’s vote was the worst and least transparent election she’s ever witnessed in Nicaragua.

Nuñez, however, insists transparency can still be injected into the process by the PLI’s parallel vote count.

“If it takes hours or days, we will count the votes and find the true results of the election so that the people are Nicaragua are comfortable with the results, whether they are favorable or not,” he said.