updated 11/8/2004 1:15:33 PM ET 2004-11-08T18:15:33

Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista Front sought to capitalize on the recent fracturing of a rival party during municipal elections Sunday amid ongoing attempts to remove the country’s president from office.

The elections in 152 municipalities across Nicaragua were the first since supporters of President Enrique Bolanos broke with the Liberal Constitutionalist Party to form the Alliance for the Republic. They were being watched as political barometer more than halfway through the president’s five-year term.

Bolanos is under pressure to leave office as investigators probe the source of funding for his 2001 campaign.

Election monitors reported a lower turnout than in the presidential elections three years ago as the polls closed Sunday evening.

Alliance for the Republic officials filed a complaint Sunday saying its election monitors had been denied access to polling places, but no major irregularities were found.

“There were delays in the poll openings,” said Moises Bonamor, deputy chief of an Organization of American States election monitoring team. “But no grave incidents were reported.”

Managua victory claimed
The Sandinista’s candidate for Managua’s mayor, Dionisio Marenco, 58, who was favored in pre-election polls, claimed victory late Sunday before official results were released. It was unclear when results would be available.

The Sandinista Front, which ruled Nicaragua during the 1980s and had close ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union, retook Managua during 2000 elections.

Marenco faced Liberal Constitutionalist Party candidate Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, 53, the son of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, in this capital city with a population of more than 1 million.

Alejandro Fiallos also competed in the mayor’s race under the new Alliance for the Republic banner.

Bolanos lost the support of the Liberal Constitutionalists after his anti-corruption campaign landed his predecessor, Arnoldo Aleman, in jail, serving 20 years on corruption charges.

Campaign fund allegations
Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s federal controller’s office has accused Bolanos of failing to explain the origin of $7 million he used during his presidential campaign in 2001.

The president has denied any wrongdoing and maintains that accusations against him stem partly from his crusade to clean up Nicaragua’s government. The anti-corruption campaign led to charges against Aleman, a key player in the Constitutionalist Liberal Party that elected Bolanos.

Aleman was sentenced for fraud, misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and criminal association. Bolanos has said he would not approve Aleman’s release under any circumstances.

Bolanos on Wednesday asked an appeals court for a protective injunction against the effort to remove him from office.

Sandinista Front leader Daniel Ortega said he viewed Sunday’s local elections as a “kind of referendum” on party preference in a country of 5.5 million people.

“We are going to see which political force gains the most votes, which comes in second and third,” said Ortega, who served as president after the Somoza family dictatorship was overthrown by Sandinista rebels in 1979.

Bolanos, voting in his home town of Masaya, 15 miles east of Managua, said he would support winning candidates, regardless of party affiliation.

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