Dominican Republic goes to polls to elect new president


A woman prepares her ballot at a polling station in Santo Domingo during election day in the Dominican Republic on May 20, 2012.


Juan Barreto

Two seasoned politicians are battling to win the presidency of the Dominican Republic in elections on Sunday, following a campaign dominated by concerns over growing food and fuel costs and crime and drug-related violence in the Caribbean nation.

According to the BBC, opinion polls put the candidate from the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), 60-year-old economist Danilo Medina, just ahead of the challenger, 71-year-old opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Hipolito Mejia, who was the country’s president from 2000-2004.

Six and a half million people are registered to cast ballots on Sunday, although analysts say the poll is so close it may be decided by the votes of the more than 300,000 of them who live abroad, mainly in the United States. A runoff will be held in June if neither Medina nor Mejia manages to secure at least 50 percent of the vote.

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According to Reuters, there is little to distinguish the two candidates ideologically. Both say they will transform the Dominican Republic through better education and job creation. While the PRD is considered to be slightly to the left of the PLD, both parties are pro-business, back free trade and support close ties with the United States.

Although the Dominican Republic is far wealthier than Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, many Dominicans still struggle to satisfy basic needs, prompting some to seek a better life by slipping into nearby Puerto Rico.

Many Dominicans blame immigrants from Haiti for taking their jobs and getting involved in crime, which has doubled in the last decade. According to the Associated Press, the Dominican Republic has become an important route for drug smugglers seeking to reach the United States through Puerto Rico, and there are widespread concerns about the influence of drug trafficking. 

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