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Dominican Republic votes for president in poll overshadowed by Haiti crisis

By AFP

May 19, 2024 05:34 PM


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Polls opened in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, where President Luis Abinader is poised for comfortable reelection on the back of widespread support for his tough stance on migration from troubled neighbor Haiti.

The two nations share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but the more prosperous Dominican Republic stands in stark contrast to its chaos-plagued neighbor, which has been rocked by months of gang violence.

The volatility across the border has been a key issue in the election campaign, but Abinader, 56, also boasts success in managing the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Voting for the president and Congress formally began at 7:00 am (1100 GMT) and will go until 5:00 pm, with initial results expected around 8:00 pm.

Polls show Abinader leading his closest rival Leonel Fernandez -- a 70-year-old three-time ex-president -- with 60 percent of voter support compared to 25 percent.

Millionaire businessman Abinader was elected amid the Covid pandemic in 2020, promising to restore trust in the government after several high-profile corruption scandals embroiling public officials.

In office, he began building a 164-kilometer (102-mile) concrete wall along the border with Haiti to keep out undocumented migrants.

He also had more than 250,000 migrants deported in 2023.

  United against migration 

 The capital, Santo Domingo, and smaller provincial towns are plastered with political posters, and Abinader and Fernandez have crisscrossed the country holding rallies with hundreds of supporters chanting slogans and dancing Dominican merengue.

The migration issue has not been a divisive one in the election, with the opposition backing the deportation of Haitian migrants and increased border security.

"We have the right to do so," said Fernandez during an election debate, criticizing international pressure to take in Haitian refugees.

"We will keep deporting those who are illegal," said Abinader.

A Gallup poll showed that 47.5 percent of Dominicans believe the country is "on the right path" and 40 percent believe the economy is doing better than before.

"Stabilizing a country is not that easy and putting it to work correctly is not that easy either. That takes time," Genry Perez, a 30-year-old transporter, told AFP ahead of the vote.

"That's why the population wants to give Abinader a chance."

Fernandez has accused the government of manipulating growth data. The World Bank reports that the Dominican Republic economy grew 2.5 percent in 2023.

Abinader has said that voting for Fernandez would mean a return to corruption.

Opinion polls also show that Abinader's Modern Revolutionary Party is bound for a majority in Congress.

The party won 120 of 150 mayoral posts in February municipal elections, considered a litmus test ahead of the general vote.

More than eight million people are registered to vote.


AFP


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