- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

MANAGUA, Nicaragua A 73-year-old businessman who suffered expropriation and prison under the Sandinistas won Nicaragua's presidency over Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who was trying to make a comeback 11 years after losing power.
Mr. Ortega yesterday conceded that he had suffered his third consecutive election defeat, and supporters of victorious Liberal Party candidate Enrique Bolanos chanted "strikeout, strikeout" as they celebrated.
"Nicaragua is the winner, because we have taken another step toward the consolidation of democracy," Mr. Bolanos said. He called the Sandinistas "worthy and able opponents" and said they had shown "respect for the institutions of democracy."
Mr. Ortega promised to continue working for national reconciliation and for a free-market economy from within the National Assembly for his Sandinista party, which retains a solid core of support in Nicaragua.
"We accept the mandate of the people and congratulate the Liberal ticket," he said. "We are going to be firm allies of a peaceful Nicaragua, a free, just and prosperous nation for which so many Nicaraguans gave their lives."
Mr. Ortega alluded indirectly to U.S. hostility as one reason for his defeat, but in an apparent effort to improve his relationship with U.S. officials he pledged that in the congress he would battle drug smuggling and terrorism, two key U.S. policy concerns.
During the campaign, the United States warned of dire consequences if Mr. Ortega were to win, invited Mr. Bolanos to distribute donated U.S. food and pressured a third candidate to leave the race.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declared the election a success before Mr. Ortega conceded defeat.
"I think the massive electoral turnout demonstrates that the Nicaraguan people have once again shown their unwavering commitment to democracy," he said.
Mr. Ortega's concession came with only 5.4 percent of the vote counted.
Later, with 13 percent of the vote tallied, the Supreme Electoral Council showed Mr. Bolanos with 53.7 percent and Mr. Ortega with 44.7 percent.
An enormous turnout in Sunday's election overwhelmed an inefficient election bureaucracy. Some voters still were waiting in line at 11:30 p.m., more than five hours after polls were scheduled to close.
But the peacefulness of the election belied claims by outgoing President Arnoldo Aleman that Mr. Ortega's supporters had planned election-day violence. After Mr. Aleman's victory over Mr. Ortega in 1997, pro-Sandinista students attacked police with rocks and homemade bombs and mortars.
After the Sandinista National Liberation Front came to power in a 1979 revolution, it confiscated Mr. Bolanos' farm service company. As head of the country's main business chamber, he became a fierce critic of Mr. Ortega and was imprisoned.
His campaign repeatedly reminded voters of the grim side of the Sandinistas' 1979-1990 rule: long food lines, a muzzled press and coffins carrying the bodies of drafted soldiers in a war against U.S.-backed Contra rebels.
That apparently overcame Mr. Ortega's "path of love" campaign, which featured pink posters adorned with flowers in an attempt to reach out to non-Sandinista critics of Mr. Aleman's government.
Mr. Bolanos, who was vice president before resigning to run for the presidency, inherits an economy that is struggling under heavy debts and with losses caused by the global economic slowdown.
After taking office in January, he also may clash with Mr. Aleman, who handpicked the Liberal candidates for congress.
Mr. Aleman was expected to lead the congressional delegation because of a law he oversaw that gave former presidents an automatic seat in congress and immunity from legal action.
Mr. Aleman's acknowledged wealth has multiplied many times over since he began public service as mayor of Managua in 1990, and critics accuse him of corruption, which he denies.
During his campaign, Mr. Bolanos vowed to fight corruption wherever it might be found, saying that "immunity should not be impunity."
Voters had relatively little choice in the election. Under a Liberal-Sandinista deal that reformed the constitution, third parties were severely restricted and key posts divided up on a partisan basis.
Several parties or candidates that appeared to meet the tough conditions for reaching the ballot were improperly disqualified by the politicized electoral board, according to the independent analyst group Ethics and Transparency.
Mr. Ortega, 55, vowed that his electoral alliance with non-Sandinista parties would continue, apparently mapping out a long-term strategy to position the Sandinistas as a peaceful, democratic, left-of-center political party.


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