Dominican Republic: Political Rivals Face-Off in Elections Today

The Miami Herald writes about the campaign for today’s elections in the Dominican Republic, which “has been dominated by the economic record of President Leonel Fernandez, who is barred from seeking a fourth term, and by women’s issues after the first lady was selected as a vice-presidential candidate.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article, describing the two major rivals, below:

One portrays himself as the “safe change,” a straightforward choice to carry on the current administration’s policies. The other, who goes simply by “Papá,” is a divisive former president trying to recapture past glory. [. . .] A majority of recent polls suggests ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) candidate Danilo Medina, 60, is poised to win with more than the 50 percent necessary to avoid a run-off election next month. His opponent, Hipólito “Papá” Mejía, 71, of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), beat Medina in a landslide in the 2000 election. But the economic collapse that ensued and a series of campaign trail missteps have played against him.

“The trend has been in favor of Medina, especially since the beginning of the year,” said David Beattie, president of Washington, D.C.-based Hamilton Campaigns, which found in a May poll that 52 percent of 1,200 likely voters favored Medina, compared to 43 percent for Mejía. “I think the only way we see a second round is if there’s a very low turnout.” Roughly 6.5 million Dominicans are eligible to vote, including 328,649 who live outside of the country. Turnout for presidential elections has historically been higher than 70 percent.

Medina has run a steady, if somewhat dull, campaign, promising to “continue what’s good” and “fix what’s bad.” A former cabinet member and congressman, he has opened a wide lead in polls among female voters by promising to include more women in his government and choosing current first lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernández as his running mate. The choice of Cedeño, who features heavily in campaign materials, was “important not just because she was a woman, but also because she is seen as a continuation of the Fernandez government,” said Dan Guzman, an analyst with Santo Domingo-based Asisa Research. “She is, right now, the most popular politician in the Dominican Republic.”

Meanwhile, Mejía’s remarks have turned away many female voters. He recently caused a stir by suggesting domestic employees, a role filled almost exclusively by women, are an extension of a corrupt system because they’re prone to “steal a steak and give it to their boyfriends.” “It was disrespectful, not just for domestic employees but for all women,” said Iris Guaba, who organizes the group Women United With Danilo, which has represents more than 30,000 female voters. It wasn’t Mejía’s only gaffe. At a campaign event in New York, he suggested President Barack Obama came from Africa. He later backtracked on both comments.

[. . .] Analysts said the campaign has become more of a referendum on the current president. Under President Leonel Fernandez, who is constitutionally barred from running for a fourth term, the economy has grown steadily, including by an expected 4.5 percent this year, thanks largely to tourism. The country is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. Below the surface, however, there is deep discontent with how the growth has been managed, said Carlos Báez Evertsz, a political analyst here and outspoken critic of the Fernandez government. “If you walk through the barrios of Santo Domingo or ride public transportation, you hear the opposite [of the polls]. People are fed up with this government,” he said. The feeling is that “there has been an abuse of power to favor the party, which is a political-business group.”

Despite economic growth, unemployment is still high at around 15 percent and roughly one-in-three Dominicans live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/18/v-fullstory/2806478/political-rivals-face-off-sunday.html#storylink=cpy

For today’s election news (in Spanish), see http://dominicanoshoy.com/articulos/archivos/2012/mayo/articulo/votaciones-transcurren-en-calma-barrios-capital-y-sd/

Photo from http://www.eluniversal.com/internacional/120518/el-estratega-del-oficialismo-en-dominicana

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