The leader of the Dominican Republic’s opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), Luis Abinader, has won the Dominican Republic’s 4 July presidential elections. The PRM also swept the congressional elections taking control of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies enabling it to legislate to deliver on its platform, and to control judicial appointments. In winning, the PRD ended the opposition Partido Liberacion Dominicana’s (PLD) sixteen years in office.
The final results indicate that Abinader took 53% of the votes in the first round, defeating Gonzalo Castillo, the PLD’s presidential candidate who took 37% of the vote. Castillo was backed by the outgoing President, Danilo Medina.
Abinader, one of the country’s leading businessmen, has not previously held political office. He will now have to address several significant challenges including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has severely damaged the country’s previously stellar economic growth. When he takes office on 16 August, his government will have to find ways to stimulate the economy, recover activity in tourism and boost all other productive sectors if he is to restore the country’s previously strong internatio nal reserves.
Some Dominican analysts believe that this may mean that the Abinader Government will have little choice other than to approach the IMF for a longer term, flexible stand-by agreement than the US$650m credit line negotiated in April by the Central Bank.
Prior to being elected, Abinader said that he would introduce short
term special measures aimed at recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic and policies that would relaunch of the economy. During the campaign he promised a universal minimum subsistence wage of DOP10,000 pesos (US$173). This, he said, would be paid during the process of recovery and until employment was restored for the country’s workers. He also promised tax incentives to encourage construction activity with the aim of developing low-cost housing, infrastructure and aqueducts.
As the only party to develop a strategy to improve the Dominican Republic’s relations with Haiti, Abinader and the PRM are also expected to try to rebalance trade and address the fraught issue of cross-border migration by reactivating the Joint Commission which has been dormant for some time.
By Dominican standards, the campaign was unusually peaceful with the absence of physical and verbal violence, public meetings and political ‘caravans’ as a result of COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.
Despite the PLD’s strong pre-pandemic economic record, voters were concerned about the party’s delay in responding to the pandemic followed by a too rapid reopening of the economy. Continuing social disparities as well as allegations of corruption and impunity from prosecution also impacted the party’s chances at re- election. The turn out was high with the markedly new political activism of younger voters observed since 2019 affecting the election outcome.
The elections, delayed since May because of COVID-19 and earlier voting machine irregularities, took place as the pandemic continued to surge across the country with the numbers new infections reaching record highs. Voters were required to wear face masks with only one voter at a time being permitted to enter polling stations. During the campaign, Abinader tested positive for the virus and had to self-isolate for much of June.
Abinader is of Lebanese descent and, until his election, was the Executive Vice President of the Dominican ABICOR Group. Since the 1970s the company has developed and operated real estate and tourism projects in the country including Super Clubs of Jamaica’s local Breezes hotel chain. It also owns Cementos Santo Domingo SA. Born in 1967 he is the first Dominican leader not to have been alive during the Trujillo dictatorship
The outgoing President, Danilo Medina, served two consecutive four-year terms and was ineligible to seek re-election after failing to win sufficient backing for the constitutional change needed for him to run for a third time. His predecessor, former President Leonel Fernandez, who ran on a Fuerza del Pueblo ticket, took just 9% of the vote.
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