On bright-pink billboards across the Nicaraguan capital, President Daniel Ortega looms triumphantly over motorists ahead of next Sunday’s vote, where he’s considered a shoo-in. He’s almost never alone in those ads: Accompanying Ortega is the smiling visage of his first lady, spokeswoman and now running mate, Rosario Murillo. “That woman is the one who rules in the country. She is powerful,” said fruit vendor Roberto Mayorga. “If ‘the man’ dies, she’ll be there. She has been his shadow. There is nobody who can keep her from being next.” Murillo has taken on ever greater responsibility during the last decade that her husband has been in office. She is said to run Cabinet meetings and many Nicaraguans credit her for social programs that have helped keep the ruling Sandinista party’s popularity ratings high.
Murillo is beloved by many poor Nicaraguans and Sandinista faithful, consistently polling around 70 percent approval. And she’s equally reviled by government opponents, who see her presence on the ticket as another step in the 70-year-old Ortega’s push to maintain the couple’s grip on power in a country with a long and uncomfortable history of dynastic families.
“She’s already been involved in the main decisions affecting the country and advising the president. So now she’s just getting the appropriate title to go along with that,” said Michael Allison, a political scientist at the University of Scranton.
“The Ortegas really seem to be intent on increasing the family’s control over much of Nicaraguan political, social and economic life …” he added. “And so this would be a way to really guarantee that should something happen to him, the family control over Nicaraguan politics will continue.”
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