Nicaraguan opposition fails to strike deal to unite ahead of elections

·2 min read

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua's opposition Citizen Alliance grouping on Wednesday registered to contest November's presidential elections on its own, reducing the likelihood the wider opposition would join forces to topple leftist leader Daniel Ortega.

Nicaragua's fractured opposition has spent more than two years trying to come to an agreement over how to form a single coalition to battle Ortega, a strongman who has been in power since 2007.

Analaysts say Ortega is likely to be re-elected if the opposition is divided.

The Supreme Electoral Council had given the opposition a hard deadline of May 12 to register as a single alliance.

The opposition's attempts at unity stem from the nationwide upheaval that followed protests against Ortega, which flared in April 2018. Some 326 people died during months of protests that were put down by Ortega's security forces with an iron first.

The right-wing Citizen Alliance had been locked in intense talks for the past week with the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD), part of a National Coalition umbrella grouping that represents anti-Ortega leftists, evangelical Christians, students and other groups.

"We sought unity until the last moment. We were waiting for them until the end and they did not arrive (to an agreement)," said Kitty Monterrey, president of the Citizens for Freedom party through which Citizen Alliance will contest the elections.

Ortega has faced growing criticism in recent years over rights abuses and election fraud, which he denies.

His government last week installed a host of allies to the country's electoral council, prompting the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) to say Nicaragua is heading for the "worst possible elections".

Though Ortega is deeply unpopular across vast sections of Nicaragua society in the wake of the rights abuses in 2018, the socialist leader has steadfast support of his Sandinista party base.

Ortega's first stint as president ended in 1990 when the opposition united against him but in every election since 2006, when he was re-elected as president, the anti-Ortega vote has been divided between multiple opposition parties.

"This divided, it's impossible they will defeat Ortega," said Eduardo Enríquez, editor-in-chief of La Prensa, the biggest national newspaper. "The numbers won't permit it."

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Richard Pullin)