Monday, November 5, 2001

MANAGUA, Nicaragua Eleven years after losing power in an election, former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had a strong chance to regain the presidency in voting yesterday despite U.S. efforts to dent his campaign.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined thousands of local and foreign monitors scattered across Nicaragua to watch as polls opened often hours late in a country where political passions still ran high in the wake of a civil war that ended in 1990.
Once a Marxist revolutionary who wore olive-green uniforms, Mr. Ortega, 55, campaigned in pink shirts and with the slogan “the path of love.”
It was meant to help overcome the bitterness many still felt toward his earlier government, which confiscated property, jailed opponents and drafted tens of thousands to fight U.S.-backed rebels while trying to bring jobs and food for all.
He faced Enrique Bolanos, 73, of the governing Constitutionalist Liberal party in the contest for a five-year term. The former vice president saw most of his property confiscated by the Sandinistas during the 1980s.
Officials said the first results were not expected until early today. The law bars release of independent exit polls or quick counts before official results are offered.
With polls showing the race in a dead heat, the election atmosphere was tense and organizational glitches appeared. Many voting places opened long after the planned 7 a.m. start, causing enormous lines.
“I’ve been here since 5:30,” said Ivan Herrera, who waited impatiently in line at nearly 9 a.m. “I have a mechanic shop. I have work to do.”
Claiming a threat of Sandinista violence, outgoing President Arnoldo Aleman said he “will not hesitate” to decree a state of emergency if disturbances break out.
Mr. Ortega suggested Saturday that Mr. Aleman could be preparing to annul the elections if they went against his party.
“We ask God to enlighten the president to avoid causing fear in the population,” Mr. Ortega said as he voted. “I call on our brother Sandinistas to not let them provoke us” to violence.
The rumors were serious enough that Mr. Carter told a news conference that it “is not acceptable” to declare a state of emergency if there is merely a close vote.
But the former U.S. president, who also monitored the 1990 and 1996 elections here, said, “My prediction is that there will be a fair election.”
Mr. Bolanos promised to continue the free-market policies of Mr. Aleman, but with a greater emphasis on fighting corruption. Charges of shady dealings stained the reputation of the outgoing government.
Both Mr. Ortega and Mr. Bolanos had promised to revise the constitutional amendments that put the supreme court, electoral council and other agencies in partisan political hands and that blocked most of the country’s political parties from reaching the ballot.
Mr. Ortega also vowed to respect private property and free speech and said that the vice presidency, foreign ministry and attorney general’s posts would go to prominent individuals who were imprisoned by the Sandinistas in the 1980s.
But U.S. officials openly tilted against him, expressing concern about his party’s past ties to terrorists and recalling its Marxist policies of the 1980s.
While the overall economy has grown over the past three years, little of that has reached the poorest Nicaraguans. Millions live on about a dollar a day.
Those problems will continue to face any new government.
While Mr. Aleman’s government has increased foreign investment, it remains saddled with a $4 billion foreign debt and is unlikely to meet financial targets agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund as a condition for more debt relief.
Top income sources coffee, tourism, assembly plants and money sent from Nicaraguans working abroad all have slumped recently. Foreign reserves have dropped sharply, leaving Nicaragua with less than three weeks of reserve coverage for imports.

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