Stunning Ortega Defeat : Chamorro Elected in Voter Rebuke to Sandinistas : Transfer of Power April 25

From Times Wire Services

In a stunning rebuke to 10 years of leftist Sandinista rule in this war-weary nation, opposition leader Violeta Barrios de Chamorro swept to victory in Nicaragua’s presidential election.

President Daniel Ortega, looking tired and shaken as it became clear early today that he had lost his reelection bid, promised in an emotional television address to respect the opposition victory.

With 60% of the vote counted in Sunday’s election, the Supreme Electoral Council gave Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) 41.5% of the presidential vote against 54.3% for Chamorro.


Chamorro, the wealthy publisher of La Prensa newspaper, heads the National Opposition Union (UNO), a coalition of 14 groups that range across the ideological spectrum and were united primarily by their dislike of the Sandinistas.

“The elections showed that Nicaraguans want to live in democracy, want to live in peace, and above all, in liberty,” she said.

Many analysts had predicted a Sandinista victory, and some political observers attributed Chamorro’s triumph to the dire economic conditions in the country.

She had political and financial support from Washington, which has backed the Contra rebel war against the Sandinistas and imposed economic sanctions on the impoverished nation.

President Bush, who once likened Ortega to a skunk, hailed Chamorro’s victory, praised the Sandinistas for holding free elections and called for immediate restoration of a cease-fire between Managua and the Contras.

Without mentioning the opposition by name, Ortega said: “Yesterday, thousands and thousands of Nicaraguans cast their vote for the political force (UNO) which I consider should start governing Nicaragua from April 25,” the date set for the transfer of power.


“The president of Nicaragua will respect and accept the popular mandate arising from the vote,” said Ortega, 44, who joined the fledgling Sandinista revolution as a youth and became president in 1984 polls largely boycotted by the opposition.

Claiming victory three hours earlier, Chamorro, 60, vowed to work for reconciliation in a country deeply divided by the eight years of Contra war, which has killed about 30,000 people and wrecked the economy.

UNO’s platform pledged to end the Contra war and abolish compulsory military service. It guaranteed that peasants will retain property rights to land they received in Sandinista land reform and also promised people whose land was illegally confiscated that their property will be returned or they will be compensated if it was occupied.

Drawing cheers from supporters, Chamorro added: “There will be no victor, no vanquished.”

The president-elect came to prominence after the January, 1978, assassination of her husband, publisher Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, long a vehement critic of the Somoza family dynasty. Outrage at his murder helped turn the Sandinista struggle into a broad-based popular revolt, which toppled Gen. Anastasio Somoza in July, 1979.

President Ortega near tears in his concession speech. See P2