August 29, 2006

Sandinistas lead first days of Nicaragua election

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Despite U.S. efforts to stop
left-wing Nicaraguan politician Daniel Ortega from returning to
power, a poll released on Tuesday showed he maintained a
six-point lead over rival presidential candidates.

Ortega, who headed the socialist Sandinista government in
the 1980s, had the support of 29 percent of those surveyed,
according to a poll by Cid-Gallup.

Twenty-three percent said they backed conservative banker
and former Foreign Minister Eduardo Montealegre.

A June Cid-Gallip poll also gave Ortega a six-point lead.

Washington, which backed Contra rebels who battled the
Soviet-supported Sandinista government, has criticized Ortega
as "undemocratic" and tried to strengthen his rivals.

The U.S Embassy in Managua held several meetings before the
campaign started in an attempt to unite Nicaragua's fractured
right behind a single candidate.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas.

When the Sandinistas took power in 1979, they improved
living conditions for some of the poor and introduced free
healthcare and universal education, but were criticized for
human rights abuses and forced military conscription.

Ortega enjoys the support of Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez, who has upset the United States by using oil money to
build anti-U.S. alliances and strengthen leftist candidates
across Latin America.

Montealegre is competing against Jose Rizo, a former
vice-president from the ruling Liberal Party.

Voters will choose a president on November 5. Nicaraguan
elections include a run-off unless one candidate receives 40
percent of the vote or 35 percent with at least a five-point
lead over his nearest rival.

This will be Ortega's third presidential bid since being
defeated at the polls in 1990. Many in Nicaragua are skeptical
whether he can hold his lead.

This time the leftist has struck alliances with old rivals
to try and broaden his appeal.

In the poll, 14 percent of the 1,258 persons interviewed
said they supported Sandinista dissident Edmundo Joaquin.

Cid-Gallup said the poll had a margin of error of 2.8