Nicaragua’s president-elect Daniel Ortega has won a new term in office with a strong electoral mandate despite critical international criticisms of last week’s poll.
“Nicaragua has sent a message to the world: it is stable, it is prosperous, it is entering the 21st century,” Ortega told supporters in Managua as results showed him with a close but comfortable lead over his opposition rival, Eduardo Montealegre.
Montealegre conceded defeat and said Ortega’s alleged vote fraud had been blatant.
“The Nicaraguan people have established a constitution and a political system that do not recognise a discredited, obsolete system that continues to be entrenched,” he said.
Ortega, who had promised a return to a fairer and more prosperous society if re-elected, had seen his campaign based on promises of welfare reform and promises to boost the poor.
He faced what his supporters had called a referendum on the fight against poverty, a high-profile pledge that has been blocked by a hostile supreme court.
Nicaragua’s prime minister, Carlos Morales, signs a book after voting on Saturday. Photograph: Dania Maxwell/AFP/Getty Images
Ortega’s third straight victory makes him the third-longest serving head of state in the world behind Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
A close second in the election was former education minister Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega’s vice-presidential chief of staff and widely seen as his de facto power.
The strong result strengthened Ortega’s hand at home and abroad in dealing with his biggest adversary, the US, which has cut aid, freeze diplomatic ties and considered Ortega a threat to regional security.
In the speech broadcast on Saturday, Ortega made only passing reference to the election, saying: “The path that we have taken has been well-conceived … Let’s remain calm and continue, in a tranquillity that is peaceful and serene, to keep moving forward.”
Opposition groups complained of vote-rigging in the run-up to the vote and included international observers.
Unlike in Nicaragua’s previous election, the election is being monitored by observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS). The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, both called on Ortega to respect the rights of the Nicaraguan people.
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said in a statement: “Our opposition to Ortega is clear and absolute. The people of Nicaragua have demonstrated a clear desire for a society that is democratic, plural, and more just.”
“The US wants to maintain relations with Nicaragua … because of its strategic importance, but we also want the president-elect to respect the rights of the people of Nicaragua,” the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, told Fox News.
The Nicaraguan government – which has called the international community’s criticisms of the election campaign “absurd” – said just 23% of the foreign observers had been from neighbouring countries.
• This article was amended on 6 May to clarify that OAS monitors counted a total of 28 observers, not 24.