Nicaragua presidential hopeful ends bid as opposition wilts

MANAGUA (Reuters) - An opposition contender for Nicaragua’s November presidential election said on Monday he would end his candidacy, the latest sign that President Daniel Ortega’s re-election is becoming a mere formality.

Pedro Reyes, a lawyer leading the Independent Liberal Party, or PLI, who was running third in opinion polls, said he would nominate Jose del Carmen Alvarado, a 66-year-old dentist, to run in his place.

Reyes said he ended his bid because he did not get any bank loans to finance his campaign, and would instead work to boost the popularity of the PLI, which had only 2.2 percent of voter support, according to an opinion poll last week.

The survey showed Ortega extending his lead over his nearest rival, 55-year-old lawyer Maximino Rodriguez, a former right-wing “Contra” rebel who polled less than 5 percent.

Ortega, 70, a former Marxist rebel from the Sandinista National Liberation Front, had the backing of 65.7 percent of voters heading into the Nov. 6 election, the poll showed.

In 2014, the Sandinista-controlled Congress backed a constitutional change to remove term limits on the presidency, prompting accusations from the opposition that Ortega aimed to install a family dictatorship in the Central American nation.

In July, Reyes sparked opposition anger when the National Assembly accepted a decision by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal at Reyes’ behest to throw out 16 PLI deputies who had refused to support him as leader.

Reyes’ opponents, who had declared themselves independent, accused him of being in league with Ortega, and the move stirred fears that opposition was being snuffed out in Nicaragua.

After nearly a decade in power, Ortega’s popularity has remained intact because of economic policies and social programs put into place with the support of allies in Venezuela and Cuba.

Reporting by Ivan Castro; Editing by Peter Cooney