Nicaragua Stays Left, Guatemala Goes Right in Central American Elections

A leftist former guerrilla retains his grip on power while an ex-general promising mano dura sweeps into office.

Yesterday was election day in two Central American countries. In Nicaragua, early results show Hugo Chavez ally and current president Daniel Ortega easily winning re-election. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, ex-general Otto Perez Molina took 54 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off.

Both countries reported problems surrounding the elections. In Guatemala, indigenous Mayans complained of disenfranchisement because of government spelling mistakes. Meanwhile, outgoing president Alvaro Colom announced that 106 people had been detained on suspicion of breaking election laws.

In Nicaragua, Ortega is the target of even more serious election complaints. Several teams of international observers bemoaned the "inexplicable" difficulties they faced while monitoring the turnout.

"I don't understand why there are so many obstacles, so much opacity and so many tricks in a process that should be clean and transparent," said Luis Yanez, head of the European Union delegation.

Early results show Ortega winning with a resounding 64 percent of the vote, far more than in pre-election polling.

Perez's election could further polarize an already bitterly divided region. A former general during Guatemala's long civil war in which 200,000 died, Perez has been accused of human rights violations. He has denied the allegations, instead promising to crack down on Mexican drug cartels and violence in Guatemala.

"Very small groups have made the accusations but they have been incapable of producing any evidence or winning any trial," Perez told the BBC.

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