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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 08:10 GMT
Guide to the Nicaraguan elections
Daniel Ortega
A new-look Daniel Ortega hopes to win back power
Nicaraguans go to the polls on 4 November to choose between a former revolutionary and a businessman whose assets he confiscated, report BBC Monitoring's Charlotte Eimer and Mike Rose.

Latest opinion polls predict a very close race for the presidency between the former revolutionary leader and president, Daniel Ortega, of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the ruling Liberal Constitutionalist Party's (PLC) candidate, Enrique Bolanos.

Mr Ortega, who introduced radical socialist policies when president during the 1980s, is campaigning on a theme of love and reconciliation.

Mr Bolanos, who was briefly imprisoned and had his assets seized when the FSLN came to power in 1979, was vice president until he resigned to run for the presidency.

Turn out

The elections for president and members of the National Assembly may be overshadowed by a low turn out.

A recent report by the International Republican Institute criticized the electoral authorities for their "inability or lack of willingness to ensure the participation of all Nicaraguans in the elections".

Voters
Population: 4.5 million
Electorate: 2.7 million
Universal suffrage at 16
The report said such failings "reduce the level of trust in the electoral process, which in itself already causes concern".

Business leaders fear a victory by Mr Ortega could lead to an outflow of capital and investment, while Washington admits to "serious reservations" that a Sandinista victory could change the strategic balance of power in Central America, to the detriment of US trade and security interests.

Corruption

However, many Nicaraguans criticize the 70-year old Mr Bolanos for failing to fight corruption in the current administration, led by President Arnoldo Aleman.

Parties and presidential candidates
Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC): Presidential candidate Enrique Bolanos; Vice-presidential candidate Jose Rizo
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN): Presidential candidate Daniel Ortega; Vice-presidential candidate Agustin Jarquine
Conservative Party (PC): Presidential candidate Alberto Saborio; Vice-presidential candidate Consuelo Sequeira
In the last general election, in 1996, Mr Aleman decisively defeated Mr Ortega in the battle for the presidency by 51% to 37%.

However, he found it harder to overcome problems like unemployment, now estimated at over 50 per cent, corruption and an economic downturn.

There have also been acute food shortages in many parts of the country, caused by widespread crop failures in the wake of severe drought and flooding.

Economic gloom

Commentators believe that the current economic climate will leave little room for manoeuvre whatever the election result. The situation has been exacerbated by the US recession and the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

Among Nicaragua's women, many feel left out of the political process. Women's leader Marvis Jiron complained: "We have no political power of our own".

"We have no participation in the political arenas, the men are the decision-makers. Electoral Law itself favours men, as they lead the political parties," Ms Jiron says.

1996 elections
Liberal Alliance, headed by the PLC: 51 per cent
FSLN: 38 per cent.
Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The National Assembly comprises 93 deputies, 90 of them elected from departmental and national party lists, while three are held by the unsuccessful presidential candidates.

In total, 19 parties are currently represented in the National Assembly, either independently or as part of an alliance.

According to Nicaraguan law, political parties that do not win at least one seat automatically lose their legal status and must repay government campaign financing.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Miles
"The apparant transformation of Ortega is startling"
See also:

01 Nov 01 | Americas
Nicaragua campaign draws to close
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