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Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega, left, of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, shakes hands with his rival, Eduardo Montealegre, of the Nicaragua Liberal Alliance, after Montealegre conceded in Sunday's presidential elections. ((Dario Lopez-Mills/Associated Press))

Former revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega has won Nicaragua's presidential election, according to nearly complete results released Tuesday.

Ortega won with 38 per cent of the vote, the country's top electoral officer reported.

Nicaragua's rulerfrom 1985 to 1990, he had lost three presidential elections before this week's vote.

The leader of the Sandinista Liberation Front defeated four opponents. His main rival, Harvard-educated Eduardo Montealegre, conceded the election with more than 90 per cent of the vote counted from the weekend voting.

Montealegre said he would ensure Ortega spent the next five years keeping his promises to support free trade and promote business.

Ortega had a nine percentage point lead over his nearest rival. According to Nicaraguan law, the winner must have both 35 per cent of the vote and a five-percentage point lead to avoid a runoff.

Since his failed election bids, Ortega has toned down his leftist image as a Marxist revolutionary who fought U.S.-backed Contra militants in a war that left 30,000 dead and the economy in shambles.

In an interview released Monday by the State Department, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington would respect the decision of the Nicaraguan people and wait and see what policies the next government follows before making decisions about future relations.

The comments were made before Sunday's election.

With files from the Associated Press