Latin America

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Voters in Nicaragua go to the polls this weekend to choose their next president. Despite a constitutional ban on sitting presidents running for re-election, Daniel Ortega is doing that. And he looks set to win an unprecedented third term. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from the Managua.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: This is an election filled with shifting ghosts. Characters from all sides of Nicaragua's tumultuous recent history are involved in the campaign. Daniel Ortega, the former Marxist guerrilla and long-time Sandinista leader, is promising neo-liberal reforms and a pro-business environment to attract foreign capital. Ortega is leading in the polls, but legal scholars say he's ineligible to run.

His leading challenger is Fabio Gadea, a former Contra who in the 1980s fled to Costa Rica to setup an anti-Sandinista radio station. Also in the race is ex-president Arnoldo Aleman. After Aleman left office in 2002, he was convicted of having stolen $100 million in government funds. The conservative politician's conviction was eventually overturned in 2009.

Former Sandinista guerrillas are denouncing the current Sandinista leader, saying Ortega is becoming a dictator.

MONICA BALTODANO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Monica Baltodano was a fighter with the Sandinistas in the late 1970s during their guerrilla offensive to oust the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship. She says the current elections in Nicaragua are a farce and a ploy to keep Daniel Ortega permanently in power.

Ortega tried repeatedly to get the National Assembly to amend the constitution to lift term limits. When that failed, six pro-Sandinista members of the 15-member Supreme Court met in a hastily-called session in 2009 and ruled the country's term limits invalid. The absent Supreme Justice called the ruling an ambush. Baltodano is now calling on voters to go to the polls but to cast a null vote in protest.

BALTODANO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We are calling on people to mark across the entire ballot, she says. This way the ballots can't be used by anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In a sprawling market in Managua, some vendors echo Baltodano's statement that this election is a farce, but there's also genuine support for Ortega.

ELIAS JOSE GUTIERREZ AMADOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Elias Jose Gutierrez Amador, who sells bags of charcoal for roughly a dollar a bag, says he's going to support Ortega because Ortega has done a lot for the country. Gutierrez says Ortega helped people after recent floods.

Other people in the market say Ortega is providing free roofing, medicine and other assistance to the poor, and because of this, the Sandinista leader will have their votes tomorrow at the polls.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Managua.

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