Ortega Widens Lead in Nicaragua Presidential Race, Voters Focus on Jobs

BY Talea Miller  October 24, 2011 at 10:38 AM EST


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega leads in polls ahead of the Nov. 6 election. Photo by AFP.

The NewsHour’s global health unit is in Nicaragua this week, reporting on upcoming elections and the push to prevent deadly childhood diseases. Look for our broadcast reports and more online content in early November.

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Less than two weeks before election day in Nicaragua, supporters of incumbent President Daniel Ortega are a visible force in and around the capital city of Managua.

Party flags fly from passing cars, teens dance on street corners in Ortega t-shirts, and campaign posters are plastered across the city.

The president’s bid for a controversial and unprecedented third term appears to have strong support in the polls as well.

About 48 percent of likely voters are backing Ortega, the candidate of the left-wing Sandinista FSLN party, according to a recent public opinion survey by CID-Gallup. Fabio Gadea, the leading opposition candidate from the Independent Liberal Party, had 30 percent support among those polled.

Ortega’s lead has widened by about 5 points since September, but his run was hotly contested because he is the first Nicaraguan president to seek a third term. A pro-FSLN majority in the Supreme Court lifted a constitutional ban on consecutive and third presidential terms in 2009 to clear the way for his nomination.

Opposition leaders launched several appeals to the the decision, but all were unsuccessful. Ortega accepted the nomination in February.

Despite the political controversy, many Nicaraguans say they are focusing on daily life concerns, like jobs and the economy going into the Nov. 6 vote:

nic_mos1.jpgJose Espinoza, 21, is a merengue and pop musician in Managua who also works at his father’s bricklaying business to help pay the bills. He says he thinks the government leadership needs to change because people are not benefiting equally from social aid programs.

“For example, some time ago they were distributing zinc roofing, but for people who were attached to the government,” Espinoza said. “It was selective distribution, this should be given to those who really need it.”

At institutions and organizations around Nicaragua it is also difficult to get a job if you aren’t affiliated with the party, he said. Unemployment in general is a major concern, as well as high prices for basic foods like beans, rice and oil.

Espinoza said he makes about $100 a month, enough to contribute to his family’s household, but not enough to support himself. He said he plans to vote on Nov. 6, especially because many people won’t express their political views openly anymore because of all the political tension in the country.

“It’s my right, and I’m going to use it,” Espinoza said.

nic_mos2.jpgXiomara Solorzano, 42, works as a maid for a retail shop in Managua and has two children. She is a fan of the Ortega government and his programs to provide housing and subsidized food to the poor

“I think the president has been doing a good job and has been giving houses to people who need them,” Solorzano said. “He even provided programs for people who need eye glasses.”

Solorzano herself received a pair of glasses through the government initiative, which she wears each day, and is thankful for the assistance. Her son is still in school but her daughter has left the house and is married. She makes about $250 a month working at the store and between her and her husband’s income, Solorzano says they are able to make ends meet.

nic_mos3.jpgJorge Luis Vanegas, 30, sells cosmetics and bath supplies at an open-air market stall in Granada. He says he has thought a lot about not voting at all because he doesn’t believe strongly in any party, but probably will when election day comes.

For Vanegas, the vote comes down to the economy, his number one priority. He said he knows the global economic situation is bad in many places, but that in a very poor country like Nicaragua they suffer the most from the decline.

“There are no jobs in this country,” said Vanegas, gesturing to the market around him made up of mostly informal merchants. “I survive, but there are a lot of people here who don’t. And they are in debt.”