Nicaraguan opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro believed that -- like her mother 31 years ago -- she could unseat President Daniel Ortega, whose administration she calls a "dictatorship."

But six months before the November 2021 election, she was arrested and blocked from running, and on Monday was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Polls showed her to be the favorite to beat Ortega in the presidential election, just as her mother Violeta Barrios de Chamorro had done in 1990.

The memory of this defeat, her brother-in-law Edmundo Jarquin told AFP, is what "makes him (Ortega) persecute her now. It is like a ghost for him."

Chamorro, a 68-year-old journalist not aligned to any party, comes from a politicized family.

Her mother beat Ortega to become the first elected female head of state in the Americas, and her father Pedro, a journalist and fierce opponent of the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship of the 1960s and 70s, was assassinated in a Managua street in 1978.

Chamorro's brother Pedro Joaquin was also sentenced Monday to nine years in the same case.

She bears a striking resemblance to her mother, who guided the country through a period of reconciliation after a convulsive civil war.

Like her mother, she wears almost exclusively white, and cuts an elegant figure.

"Like parent like daughter. That is the first thing that comes to mind for any Nicaraguan because of Cristiana's inheritance of struggle from her parents," said Jarquin, himself a former presidential candidate.

Chamorro borrows the phrase "Nicaragua will again be a Republic" coined by her father.

She has described Ortega's government as "a dictatorship capable of anything."

Last year, prosecutors accused Chamorro of an array of crimes, and asked for her to be barred from standing in the election because she was facing criminal proceedings.

Cristiana Chamorro is the daughter of a former president and a journalist assassinated for his criticism of a dictatorship
Cristiana Chamorro is the daughter of a former president and a journalist assassinated for his criticism of a dictatorship AFP / Inti OCON

A Managua court then ordered her detention on accusations of "abusive management, ideological falsehood" and "the laundering of money, property and assets, to the detriment of the Nicaraguan State and society."

The accusations arose from Chamorro's role as the head of a foundation for press freedom, named for her mother, with prosecutors claiming accounting "inconsistencies."

Chamorro quit the foundation in February last year, refusing to comply with a new law obliging any person receiving money from abroad to declare themselves to the government as a "foreign agent."

The prosecution opened an investigation against her in May 2021 at the request of the government, which views journalists as agitators of protests against 76-year-old Ortega's government.

In an interview with AFP just days before her arrest last June, which sparked international condemnation, Chamorro said Ortega had "set up this whole farce of investigation for money laundering" to prevent her contesting the election.

And the pending judicial process was enough to disqualify her from running under Nicaraguan law.

She was one of seven presidential hopefuls arrested, along with 39 other opponents, for the most part on charges of attacking "national integrity."

The arrests allowed Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has governed since 2007, to win a fourth consecutive term in November.

Ortega's government accused Chamorro of being an instrument of US "imperialism".

"Ortega and his wife (who is vice president) have become a monstrous family dictatorship," Chamorro told AFP.

"They do not have the right to be candidates because the Constitution allows only one reelection, but Ortega committed electoral fraud and cheating to achieve an absolute majority," she charged.

Ortega, who first governed the country from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and has won three successive reelections.

He has since 2018 faced a political crisis triggered by massive protests against his government's policies.