Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega looks certain to win re-election tomorrow with the support of Nicaragua’s impoverished majority and his left-wing ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
A former Marxist guerrilla commander, Ortega has cemented his hold on the country with programs to improve health and education, microcredit schemes and gifts of livestock to farmers.
He has a strong poll lead over the conservative opposition, which is fractured and was unable to pick a unity candidate to run against him.
Ortega was allowed to run for re-election after the Supreme Court in 2009 lifted a ban on presidents serving successive terms. His Sandinista party controls the court and opponents accuse him of imposing his will on the judiciary.
Ortega, who led a Sandinista rebel army in ousting the Somoza dictatorship in a 1979 revolution, has in recent years moderated his socialist rhetoric, but has joined the Chavez-led bloc of left-wing governments in Latin America.
“We are going to continue doing the good that we’ve been doing,” the 65-year-old Cold War veteran told a recent rally. “We still need to eradicate many illnesses that our society has suffered from, the illness of hunger and unemployment.”
Backed by Venezuela’s oil wealth, Ortega has managed to cut poverty in the largely agrarian Central American nation, and a recent CID-Gallup poll gave Ortega 48 percent voter support, far ahead of his nearest rivals.
The main opposition candidates are former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Aleman and radio personality Fabio Gadea, but they both refused to step aside in order to avoid splitting the conservative vote.
The CID-Gallup poll showed Gadea with 30 percent support while Aleman trailed on 11 percent.
To win in the first round and avoid a run-off, Ortega needs at least 40 percent of the vote tomorrow, or 35 percent and a 5 percentage point lead over his closest rival.
If re-elected, Ortega has pledged to continue to extend anti-poverty programs that include giving cows, pigs and hens to rural families.
Poverty has fallen to 57 percent of the population from 65.5 percent in 2005, according to government and World Bank statistics, although Nicaragua is still second only to Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.