This past Sunday, the people of Dominican Republic held an unprecedentedly complex series of elections. Dominicans voted for president, vice-president, and members of both Chambers of Congress. The election was dominated by two major issues: policy regarding relations with Haiti and corruption in a government that has received popular approval following economic growth.
President Danilo Medina, a center-left economist, was re-elected for President yesterday. He was allowed to run for a second consecutive term due to constitutional changes made in June 2015. President Medina’s political party, the Democratic Liberation Party, has been in power for 12 years, having won four of the past five presidential elections.
The second front-runner and most immediate competition for President Medina was Luis Abinader. A wealthy businessman of Lebanese descent, Abinader ran with the Modern Revolutionary Party. He accused President Medina’s administration of failing to decrease corruption and crime rates and promised to reduce crime and double down on social spending.
Abinader’s corruption accusation refers to the relationship between the government and Brazilian engineering group Grupo Odebrecht. Medina’s campaign chief, João Santana faced charges in Brazil this February for accepting money from Odebrecht, money that originally came from Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, to pay for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s 2014 political campaign.
The two front-runners differed in their policy for neighboring country Haiti, with whom the Republic shares the island Hispaniola. Haiti has faced tough economic conditions these past few decades, leading to illegal migration of many Haitians to the Dominican Republic. In the past, President Medine approved the repatriation of tens of thousands of Haitians, a policy that gained support from most of his people but raised concerns from human rights groups. On the other hand, Abinader proposed to strengthen Cesfront, the country’s borders security agency, but also encouraged a free-trade agreement with Haiti and the implementation of a new immigration law.
President Medine’s campaign benefited from Dominican Republic’s economic growth this past few years. The Dominican Republic’s economy was the fastest growing in Latin America 2014 and 2015 with a seven percent growth. Still, around 40% of the country’s population continues to live in poverty and according to government issued numbers there is a 14% unemployment rate. Pedro Silvero, an economist at the Pontificate Catholic University Madre Maestra in the Dominican Republic, remarked that “Compared with the rest of Latin America, the attempts to reduce poverty have been the least effective.”