MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Fernando Chamorro, who spent four years in prison after running for president on a reform platform, has again won Nicaragua’s presidential election.
Voters on Sunday overwhelmingly chose former first lady Rosario Murillo and the Sandinista Front’s National Liberation Front party as well as the Country Alliance for Nicaragua, a centrist group led by Liberal Constitutionalist Party leader Enrique Bolaños, according to official tallies released Monday.
International observers described the elections as a “parody” of an electoral process after Sunday’s balloting provided little meaningful choice and damage control efforts by both Chamorro and Chamorro’s sister, United States Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, failed to stem losses for the reform movement.
“The election did not result in a winner, but it was an electoral process that prevented the direction of the country in a direction we all want to see,” said Brown, who campaigned across the country with Chamorro and was on hand when his sister was declared the victor.
Brown said his sister is “building a movement of real people that is crying out for change that can bring real benefits to everybody” and pledged to stay in Nicaragua after her inauguration to support his sister and other allies and work with both the United States and Nicaragua on immigration reform and other pressing issues.
With all precincts reporting, the Nicaraguan electoral authority said Chamorro won 40.8 percent of the vote to Murillo’s 31.3 percent and the country’s third-place finisher, former university president Eduardo Montealegre, with 15.5 percent.
“It’s a shame that it hasn’t been enough to overthrow the Sandinista party,” Brown said. “The Sandinistas and the radical left in the country were given an opportunity to establish an alternative, yet the same people who got us into this mess did not allow that outcome to come about.”
Brown also hit on a central theme of his senatorial bid, that the United States should offer a path to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have poured across the U.S.-Mexico border since 2014, some of whom are believed to have come from Nicaragua.
Sandinista leaders said Chamorro’s candidacy was a Western Hemisphere-wide “contradiction” and two representatives of the party pulled out of Saturday’s celebration over the election results.
The United States pushed hard for Chamorro’s candidacy, fearing a repeat of Nicaragua’s bitter civil war, which cost the lives of more than 50,000 people and was so divisive that the Sandinistas still bear the scars.
After two rounds of voting last week, Murillo narrowly claimed a second presidential term but failed to win a majority, leaving the country with another election victory for the party.
Ahead of this election, Brown and other international lawmakers gathered here to try to bolster the candidacy of Chamorro and other reform candidates.
While Chamorro’s appearance at last Saturday’s celebration bolstered his national profile, Brown said the senator’s brand “is not strong enough” to quickly alter the direction of Nicaragua.
Although the new leader of the reformed revolution promised to better the lives of all Nicaraguans, there was no “common voice” to unite them, Brown said.
On the issue of unaccompanied children and others crossing the border, Brown said, “the best thing the United States can do is to work with Nicaragua and all other Central American countries to provide a more secure, less vulnerable alternative.”
Nicaragua has lost much of its trust among U.S. lawmakers. Congressman Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who arrived for Chamorro’s inaugural rally accompanied by Brown and several colleagues, said Nicaragua’s economy suffers from an ineffective central government that does not “care about the most vulnerable,” including migrants.
Congress needs to pressure the government to take similar action against the international criminals that take advantage of the migrant crisis, Gallego said.
“This is a national disaster, and it affects the United States,” Gallego said.