Latin America Advisor

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Are Big Changes in Store for the DR Under Abinader?

Luis Abinader won a first-round victory in Sunday’s presidential election in the Dominican Republic, putting an end to 16 years of rule by the Dominican Liberation Party. // File Photo: Abinader Campaign. Luis Abinader won a first-round victory in Sunday’s presidential election in the Dominican Republic, putting an end to 16 years of rule by the Dominican Liberation Party. // File Photo: Abinader Campaign.

Opposition candidate Luis Abinader won the Dominican Republic’s presidential election on Sunday, ending the center-left Dominican Liberation Party’s (PLD) 16-year control in the Caribbean nation. Outgoing President Danilo Medina and ruling party candidate Gonzalo Castillo both congratulated Abinader on his triumph. What does Abinader’s victory suggest about the Dominican Republic’s direction, and to what extent will it differ from the policies of the PLD? What were the most important factors driving voters’ preferences this election cycle? What challenges will Abinader face as the country’s next president, and what sort of cabinet will he select?

Ernesto Sagás, professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University: “The victory of opposition presidential candidate Luis Abinader of the Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM) marks a new chapter in the recent political history of the Dominican Republic. The ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD), which a year ago seemed invincible, fell victim to its own hubris. First, President Danilo Medina unsuccessfully maneuvered to modify the constitution in order to become eligible for a third term, and afterwards he pushed for the nomination of his anointed presidential candidate (Gonzalo Castillo). As a result, former President Leonel Fernández left the PLD to form his own presidential movement, splitting the party in the process. Second, after so many years in power, the PLD was undermined by corruption scandals (such as in relation to Odebrecht), its use of extended patronage networks and its inability to present fresh alternatives to voters. Dominicans—and in particular the emerging middle class—were increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo and wanted change. Third, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the ineffectiveness of the administration and rolled back economic growth in the midst of a contested electoral campaign. And fourth, it was but a matter of time before the political pendulum would swing back. Dominican electoral politics has been characterized by its competitive nature, and the PLD could no longer hold on to power. But for Abinader, governing will be a tall order, as he faces an implosion of the tourism industry amid a major public health crisis, an ongoing crime wave and the demands of thousands of followers eager to enjoy the perks of power as he tries to battle corruption.”

Mary Fernández Rodríguez, founding partner at Headrick Rizik Álvarez & Fernández in Santo Domingo: “The Dominican general elections were a cry for change. Luis Abinader of the PRM won with a comfortable margin to win the election outright, which came as a surprise to many. The PLD has been in power—both at the presidential and congressional levels—for 16 years. Many Dominicans have never lived under the administration of another party. Allegations of widespread corruption and the absence of accountability weighed heavily against the candidate—at all levels—for the PLD. In accordance with recent polls, Dominicans see corruption, absence of enforcement of the rule of law and a lack of jobs as the main areas of concern. Voters were seduced by the hope of change that the now president-elect advertised, as well as his promise to govern in favor of all Dominicans—not only for those who favor the party in power. The new government faces serious challenges, not only due to the Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing economic problems deriving from it, but also from the outcry for an independent judicial system, with an attorney general that will prosecute corruption cases—past and present—and to promote government procurement contracts that strictly abide by the law. However, above all, the greatest challenge the new government faces is how to deal with the serious economic crisis and the absence of jobs, as well as the perception of low salaries earned by the great majority of the population.”

James “Wally” Brewster, former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and CEO of Insignias Global: “Luis Abinader, leader of the PRM party, became the president-elect of the Dominican Republic with more than 50 percent of the votes cast. Based on preliminary results, it appears the PRM also obtained the majority of the seats in the Senate. Senator-elect Faride Raful of Santo Domingo and recently elected Santo Domingo Mayor Carolina Mejía are also members of the PRM. The election denotes a shift in power from the ruling PLD party, which has controlled the presidency, the Senate and key positions throughout the country for nearly two decades. The election was significant in that the electorate determined the outcome without interference, solidifying the stability of democracy in the Dominican Republic. The two main challengers and the current president congratulated the president-elect publicly. The PRM and Abinader ran on a platform of increased focus on the health of the nation during the Covid-19 pandemic, anti-corruption, human rights, diversity and strengthening of institutions. The election came at a time when the Dominican Republic is challenged not just with Covid-19, but also by the negative impact on the economy from lack of tourism, reduction in remittances, reduced foreign investment and other issues facing the country during this pandemic. As with many nations, the historical turnout was led by a motivation for change from the young voter. President-elect Abinader has the opportunity to establish a diverse cabinet and government based on the promises of his campaign.”

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