Image copyright INEA Image caption Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega held a lead of 35 per cent over his nearest rival in the elections
Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has won a presidential election that international observers have panned as a “parody” that skewed the vote in his favour.
Results showed him with 45.5 per cent of the vote, just over five points ahead of his nearest rival.
Ole Solarte, from the Organisation of American States, described the atmosphere in the country as “bizarre” and said the process lacked transparency.
In a press conference on Sunday, Mr Ortega said results had been rigged.
“Elections have been fixed. The right to vote has been stolen from the people,” Mr Ortega told the press.
“People are not happy. People are not happy with these procedures.”
Image copyright AFP Image caption International observers say the process lacked transparency
Mr Ortega, a 69-year-old socialist, has been Nicaragua’s leader since the 1980s, when he led the rebel insurgency Contra forces against the leftist Sandinista government.
Following the election he extended his rule – in power for 20 years – for an additional five years.
His political coalition had no formal opposition candidate, an advantage that appears to have cemented the win for him.
Mr Solarte said Mr Ortega’s coalition, the ALN, is a “fully partisan” body that is “within sight of the Sandinista-run government”.
International observers said the process lacked transparency.
“The election was conducted in a fragile climate, without any transparency and completely outside the norms established under law,” he said.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega celebrates on Sunday
This is the third time Mr Ortega has run for president, with earlier victory in the 1996 election being overturned after a court ruling he had manipulated the vote.
Nicaragua’s victory is being seen as a defeat for his rival, former First Lady Rosario Murillo, who had portrayed herself as the “law” and the “code” of the government.
During the elections campaign, two men representing Ms Murillo’s Patriotic Union party and Mr Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) appeared on stage, but neither candidate is obliged to stand for election.
“This election represents a victory for dictatorship,” said José Manuel Semprún, a candidate of the Electoral Party of the Protestant Movement for Change (PEDEC).
As rumours of Mr Ortega’s win circulated, streets were flooded with red and white flags and chanting crowds on Sunday afternoon.
A leftist government
The elections come at a time of increasing tensions in the country over the price of oil.
With the price of US crude plummeting in 2015, Nicaragua was forced to restructure its debts and launched an austerity drive including freezing public sector salaries.
Mr Ortega’s government had accused the financial crisis of “ruining” the economy, and said the recession would “end” in 2018.
This was followed by a downward economic forecast.
The collapse in oil prices has led to an increase in poverty levels and a growing debt problem, according to independent media analysts.
Ivan Velasquez, president of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, told Reuters that Nicaragua’s rising debt level had prevented the country from continuing to benefit from the growth from its nickel and coffee industries.
A significant portion of the government’s economy is funded by foreign aid, often from regional and European nations concerned over Mr Ortega’s government’s human rights record.
According to a report by the European Parliament in November last year, corruption is rife and the country has serious difficulties with human rights, political freedoms and democracy.