U.S. expresses concern over Nicaragua's 'flawed' election

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua's current president and presidential candidate from the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front, waves to the media beside vice presidential candidate, his wife, Rosario Murillo after they casted their vote at a polling station during Nicaragua's presidential election in Managua November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is “deeply concerned” by the flawed electoral process in Nicaragua, a State Department spokesman said on Monday, a day after former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega clinched a third consecutive term as president of the Central American country.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the flawed presidential and legislative electoral process in Nicaragua, which precluded the possibility of a free and fair election on (Sunday),” spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

He accused the Ortega government of sidelining opposition candidates and limiting local monitoring at polls, and for not inviting international election observers, which Toner said “further degraded the legitimacy of the election.”

“We continue to press the Nicaraguan government to uphold democratic practices including press freedom and respect for universal human rights in Nicaragua,” Toner added.

The 70-year-old Ortega, who ran with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice president, received 72.5 percent of vote, with 99.8 percent of polling stations counted, according to the latest results.

Opponents accused Ortega of trying to set up a “family dictatorship” after his Sandinistas pushed constitutional changes through Congress that ended presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega and U.S. President Barack Obama have maintained a relatively cordial relationship, although the Nicaraguan leader accused Washington of “interference” in September after Congress passed the Nica Act, which conditions U.S. funding to Nicaragua on progress in democracy, human rights and anti-corruption efforts.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, editing by G Crosse