Dominican presidential vote marred by difficulties

A woman votes at a polling station during the presidential elections in Santo Domingo May 15, 2016. — Reuters pic
A woman votes at a polling station during the presidential elections in Santo Domingo May 15, 2016. — Reuters pic

SANTO DOMINGO, May 16 — Long lines, technical difficulties and walkouts by polling staff marred presidential elections in the Dominican Republic yesterday, a race that incumbent leader Danilo Medina is expected to win.

After some polling centres opened up to two hours late, authorities in the popular Caribbean tourist destination, which is beset by widespread poverty, prolonged voting by an hour.

“Given that in the morning hours there were delay problems, we are giving voters an additional hour to vote,” the head of the electoral commission, Roberto Rosario, said.

The delays were due to glitches with electronic equipment and a mass resignation of some 3,000 technical assistants, Rosario said, without giving details on why the workers quit.

Medina, who is favoured to beat his seven rivals despite the country’s grinding poverty and widespread crime, called the resignations “irresponsible” as he cast his ballot at a school in the capital of Santo Domingo.

“The process is taking place as normal,” he said.

Many polling centres switched to manual balloting due to issues with electronic voting, which is being used for the first time.

“We are overcoming these problems, which are normal,” Rosario said.

Earlier, he promised “the most transparent elections in the history of our democracy.”

But some voters were disgruntled.

“I got up early because I have to work... I want to vote and couldn’t,” said Mireya de la Cruz, a tourism worker who queued at a school.

Poverty a problem

Medina, who is up against a divided opposition, has an 89 per cent approval rating, according to a survey by Mexican consultancy Mitofsky. That makes the 64-year-old the most popular leader in Latin America.

“I voted for continuity. Danilo needs another four years to improve safety and work with the schools,” Roxana Almonte, a 58-year-old secretary at a school in downtown Santo Domingo, told AFP.

Medina’s centrist PLD party has been in power for 12 years in the Spanish-speaking country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with its troubled neighbor, Haiti.

The economy is booming thanks to millions of tourism dollars from foreigners flocking to the country’s luxury hotels and beaches. It grew seven per cent last year and inflation stood at 2.3 per cent.

But 40 per cent of the nation’s 10 million people are estimated to live in poverty and the unemployment rate is about 14 per cent, according to government figures.

“Everything is expensive — fuel, food,” said William Mercedes, a 50-year-old farm worker. “We have a lot of poverty, and there are few jobs.”

Critics complain that crime has worsened under Medina and say his party has been in power for too long.

Medina also faces allegations of misusing electoral funds and broad international criticism over policies that discriminate against the Dominican-born children of Haitian migrant workers.

A landslide victory?

Surveys indicate that Medina will get around 60 per cent of the vote, enough to win the election outright.

His nearest rival, social democrat Luis Abinader, has 29 per cent support, the surveys showed. He is hoping to force Medina into a run-off.

Many of Medina’s supporters tout the state of the economy and improvements in education as his major accomplishments.

When Medina was elected in 2012 he was supposed to be limited to one four-year stint as president. But he passed a reform in 2015 that has allowed him to run for re-election.

The 48-year-old Abinader belongs to the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), a break-off faction of the formerly powerful Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).

He has blamed Medina for government corruption and the country’s high crime rate.

“We have two options here: democracy or one-party dictatorship,” said Abinader, a wealthy businessmen of Lebanese ancestry, at a recent public appearance in a working-class neighbourhood.

Some 6.7 million of the Dominican Republic’s 10 million residents are eligible to vote, with some 3,000 observers on hand to monitor the process.

Also being elected are 32 senators, 190 lower house deputies and local officials, with candidates from 26 different parties participating.

The country’s more than 16,000 polls were due to close at 2300 GMT, one hour later than originally planned. — Reuters