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Ortega Headed to Victory in Nicaragua Vote Count


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.



And I'm Renee Montagne.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language)

MONTAGNE: Nicaraguan supporters of Daniel Ortega were celebrating in Managua last night. While the final tally is not yet in, it seems that the Sandinista leader has enough of a lead to avoid a run-off. With 60 percent of the ballots tabulated, he has about 38 percent, with a large lead away from his nearest rival. After meeting yesterday with former President Jimmy Carter, who is in Nicaragua to observe the vote, Daniel Ortega had this to say.

Mr. DANIEL ORTEGA (Presidential Candidate, Nicaragua): (Through translator) Let us have the will to work together to eradicate poverty in Nicaragua. And we need to give security to the private sector, give security to national and foreign investors in our country. Give them the security to know that Nicaragua wants to get better and develop its relationship with the entire international community.

MONTAGNE: That's Daniel Ortega in Managua. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us now on the line from the capital of Nicaragua. Good morning.



MONTAGNE: Now, Lourdes, we just heard a little bit of the scene that sounds like it's going on there. What was it like last night?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it was really empty and quiet for most of the day. But as the tallies started coming in and it was clear that Ortega had a substantial lead, people came out into the streets in force and took them over into the night. They shouted Ortega's name over and over, they drove around Managua in pick-up trucks waving the Sandinista flag. And when Daniel Ortega showed up at the Intercontinental Hotel to meet with Jimmy Carter, he was mobbed. He could barely get to and from his car.

MONTAGNE: And in that clip we just heard, Daniel Ortega sounded pretty moderate. What more did he have to say?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, he hasn't really said much more than that since the statement you played at the top, but that was his first public declaration since Sunday's vote and it was very deliberate. He made a clear reference there to the business community, to the international community. This is a man who seems to want to assure the world and the entrepreneurial class that he's not going to nationalize businesses, he's not going to confiscate property; he's changed.

And that's been pretty much in keeping with his message throughout the campaign. He's met with business leaders here. He's promised to uphold free trade agreements. Ortega says that he realizes that if he's to help the poor, he needs to have economic stability. He doesn't want the prophecy of his opponents to be fulfilled. They've said that if he becomes president, no one will invest here anymore.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, he has a long way to go, if you will, with the business community to live down his sort of former reputation. What was the reaction to his win?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, most of his rivals here have not wanted to concede defeat yet. There has been a lot of bitterness, it seems to me. They've alleged fraud, even though most of the observer groups here have dismissed those claims. The fact is that 60 percent of the country didn't vote for Ortega and his party did not do substantially better in this election than they have in others that he lost. I think what worked for him this time is that the opposition was divided, fielding two candidates and splitting the vote. And, you know, the rules were changed to allow a lower margin of victory.

But for his supporters, Ortega represents someone who will help the poor. And there are a lot of poor here: Eight in 10 people live in poverty. They say, his supporters, that he wasn't given a chance to govern properly in the 1980's because of the civil war and the U.S.'s actions here. And they say they want to give him that chance now. And, you know, many of the people I saw casting ballots for him were from the younger generation, and it seems to me those people might not be burdened with the direct memories of the war.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, he led the Sandinista government during its war with the Contras. The Bush administration has been quite vocal in its objection to Ortega. What's that all about?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that's a good question. I think there are two reasons, really. One has to do with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He's been a big supporter of Ortega, and I think the U.S. wants to curtail his influence in the region. The second is that many people in government who have been making statements about Nicaragua now are the same people who were dealing with Nicaragua and the Contras back then.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Managua. Former President Jimmy Carter is monitoring Nicaragua's elections. In an interview at, the former president talks about how the elections look different this time around. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.