MAY 2016

Dominican Republic’s Medina heads for landslide victory

Danilo Medina, President 2016-2020Medina’s coalition won 62 percent of the vote

Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina cruised towards an easy re-election victory on Monday, after swaying voters with a booming economy and social projects despite stubborn poverty levels, high crime and accusations of graft.

Results counted by hand from 55 percent of polling stations showed Medina’s coalition won 62 percent of the vote. The margin is large enough to avoid a runoff in a first for the Caribbean nation, whose beaches and golf courses pull in millions of visitors.

Medina’s closest rival, businessman Luis Abinader, had 35 percent in the early results, a sign Dominicans were unwilling to ditch the president’s record of 7 percent GDP growth for untested promises of more social spending and lower crime.

The remaining six candidates combined had about 3 percent of votes, including the first two women running for the presidency in a Dominican election. A noisy motorcade of Medina’s supporters drove through the capital on Sunday night, blaring reggaeton music in celebration of his apparent win.

But Medina had not declared victory on Monday and his rival did not concede. The election was marred by a shootout at a voting centre, long lines and grumbles by the opposition over the method of counting and releasing results. Final results were expected later on Monday.

A left-of-center economist, Medina has enjoyed high popularity during much of his four-year term in the country of 10.4 million. Electoral rules were changed to allow him to run for a second consecutive term.

Medina’s Dominican Liberation Party has been continuously in power since 2004, which critics say has led to corruption. Abinader’s campaign called for change and focused on graft allegations over a power plant awarded to Brazilian engineering conglomerate Grupo Odebrecht.

Medina’s campaign chief, João Santana, returned to Brazil in February to face charges Odebrecht paid him funds siphoned from Brazil’s state oil company, Petrobras, to finance the 2014 poll campaign of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Medina has not referred to the Petrobras scandal, but admitted the Brazilian was his top adviser. Santana has called the allegations baseless.

The Dominican Republic was the fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2014 and 2015, and has about eight times the GDP of Haiti, its poor neighbor on the island of Hispaniola. Medina has overseen the repatriation of thousands of people with roots in Haiti.

The policy is popular at home but condemned by human rights groups. School building and health spending has helped bring down poverty rates, which rose to 41 percent in the first year of Medina’s term, the World Bank says.

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Dominican Republic Live, Reuters, Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown, 05.16.16 / 11a.m.

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