MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Some liken them to the power-hungry presidential couple in the American TV show "House of Cards." Others say they think of Lord and Lady Macbeth.
They are Nicaragua's first couple, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. And surveys indicate they are more than likely to emerge the winners of elections on Sunday, November 6, that will hand Ortega a fourth mandate, and Murillo her first as his vice president.
The latest poll, by the Nicaraguan firm M&R, credits Ortega with 70% support, with turnout predicted at 75%.
A survey by the CID-Gallup consultancy in neighboring Costa Rica offered a more muted result – 52% for Ortega, with turnout at 58% – but still a comfortable margin over rivals.
For Ortega, a win would cement his firm hold over a country that is one of the poorest in the Americas, though untroubled by the gang violence riddling nations to the north.
A former Marxist rebel, the incumbent president has been in power since 2007 – with a previous mandate in 1985-1990, after leading Sandinista insurgents to victory against CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua's revolution.
Ortega has won broad popularity with social programs for the poor, and kept powerful business leaders on side with policies protecting their interests and promoting solid economic growth.
For Murillo, election triumph would formalize her widely perceived role as co-ruler.
Already a government minister and chief spokesperson for Ortega's administration, the 65-year-old first lady – known for her colorful dresses, imperious air, poetry-writing and concerns for common folk – is the core of her husband's tiny inner circle.
As vice president, many expect she would publicly outshine her 70-year-old spouse, and maintain tight control over government policy.
'A family clique'
A husband-wife team running the country would be unprecedented in this nation of 6 million people.
And some in political circles, especially in the opposition, see it as an intention by Ortega to set up a dynasty – similar to the Somoza one he and the Sandinistas ousted in the 1970s.
The couple's children occupy important positions in politics, the economy and the media.
"This is part of the decomposition of the political system," a political scientist and academic, Jose Peraza, told Agence France-Presse. "To be healthy, a husband and wife should not govern a country because it creates a family clique and the limits of legitimacy and legality are blurred."
"It's a danger, because the consequences could be serious," agreed Michel Najlis, a theologian and poet.
Murillo, next-in-line to take charge if Ortega has to step down for some reason, "is a very active, very intelligent woman," she said.
But the problem is "she is very ambitious and with few ethics."
The two "have deformed all the democratic institutions," including their party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, said Carlos Tunnermann, a writer and academic.
The couple closely manage their public image, largely excluding foreign media from covering their appearances or government activities.
Ortega has barred foreign observers from monitoring the elections, which will also choose lawmakers for the next congress. And judges have booted out opposition deputies.
Two weeks ago, though, Ortega did agree to open dialogue with the Organization of American States, inviting it to send representatives around the date of the election.
'Almost a monarchy'
A Western diplomat in Central America, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authoritarian edge to Ortega's exercise of power was "concerning."
"Certainly, it's not the sort of actions that we would like to see supporting democracy," the diplomat said.
But he ventured that the reason many ordinary Nicaraguans were not alarmed was "because maybe they prefer to put public safety before democracy."
A writer critical of the first couple, Gioconda Belli, said it was revealing that Ortega and Murillo trusted in almost no one else and were keeping power to themselves.
"It's almost a monarchy," she said. "They feel anointed by God to be the monarchs of this land: the king and his queen." – Rappler.com