DANILO WINS HISTORIC VICTORY!
With 61.74 % of the votes cast in favor of Danilo Medina (Party of Dominican Liberation – PLD) against 35.03 % for opposition candidate Luis Abinader (Modern Revolutionary Party – PRM) the incumbent was re-elected and reached the highest percentage of votes ever in a democratic presidential election, even more than the first democratically elected President Juan Bosch who won in 1962. Globalo had previously predicted this result.
The ruling PLD also dominated the congressional elections for the 32 Senate and the 190 Chamber of Deputies seats, and elections to the Central American Parliament (20 seats) which were held at the same time. While the PLD won 27 seats in the Senate, 2 seats went to the PRM and another 2 to its alliance partner the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC); the regional Institutional Social Democratic Block (BIS) won 1 seat in Ocoa province.
Surprisingly, opposition candidate David Collado (PRM) with 57.28 % of the vote was elected mayor in the National District of the capital, delivering a humiliating defeat to incumbent Roberto Salcedo (PLD) who obtained only 36.45 %. At local level, in total 158 mayors and 1,164 council members were elected in what turned out to be the most conflicted ballot.
Despite procedural confusion and a deficient legal framework international Electoral Observation Missions (EOM) by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Union of South American States (UNASUR) availed the electoral process and considered it transparent and participatory. Despite of long delays in the opening of voting centers, last minute resignations of more than 3000 technical support staff, inoperability of electronic equipment and, as a consequence, the unavailability of the electronic vote in around 30% of the polling stations, unclear or missing instructions by the Central Election Board (JCE), and evidence of buying of identity cards, observers concluded that the switch from electronic to manual vote during election day narrowly saved the elections.
The Chief of the OAS Mission, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, recommended to introduce electronic voting on a more gradual basis in accordance with staff capacities, to clearly separate the congressional vote between senators and deputies and to adopt a Law on Political Parties and new rules on party financing in order to remedy the deficient legal framework before the next general elections.
The Presidential Elections
As had widely been expected President Danilo Medina (PLD) won the presidential election by a wide margin (2,653,052 vs. 1,505,358 votes) over the main opposition candidate Luis Abinader (PRM), although with 61.74 % vs. 35.03 % he fell short oft he 30% lead pollsters close to his campaign had predicted. The strong polarization between the two opposed political alliances (PLD-PRD vs. PRM-PRSC) did not leave much space for the other six presidential candidates on the ballot. Clearly, President Danilo Medina with all advantages of incumbency in his favor had emerged as the dominating figure during the campaign. As the frontrunner he represented a party which during the past twelve years has firmly entrenched itself in all institutions of the State and is well established in all strata of society. While Abinader´s campaign committed several strategic errors and gaffes (e.g. attacking the government of infringing on the freedom of expression on the eve of the International Press Society (SIP) Congress in Punta Cana and his evasive answers as regards his family´s wealth in a TV interview) in the end he succeded to establish himself as the future main opposition leader and to consolidate the PRM. It should be remembered that the PRM only recently was founded as an offspring of the traditional Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), and that initially Abinader´s leadership had been challenged by ex-President Hipolito Mejia.
Hopeful anti-corruption and environmental crusader Guillermo Moreno (Alliance for the Country – AP) could not establish sufficient momentum and portray his AP as a fresh alternative political force breaking with the vices of the traditionally clientelist Dominican political system. With 77,864 votes he came in third garnering a disappointing 1.81 % of the vote. However, he might remain a long shot at the 2020 elections. Preliminary results show that the ruling party´s alliance partner and former rival PRD which endorsed Danilo Medina as presidential candidate obtained 5.85 % of the vote and the PRSC in alliance with Abinader´s PRM got 5.61 % both maintaining their status as relevant political parties.
Medina´s result which assured him re-election for his second four-year term is indeed historic. Never before has a democratically elected President won more than 60% of the votes cast in the Dominican Republic. In his first term election in 2012 Medina was elected with 51.21 % of the vote after having lost a bid for the presidency against Hipolito Mejia (PRD) in 2000. Three times President Leonel Fernandez (PLD) won 51 % in 1996, 57.11 % in 2004 and 53.83 % in 2008. Hipolito Mejia (PRD) obtained 49.86 % in 2000. Danilo Medina´s result even surpassed that of the first democratically elected President Juan Bosch in 1962 following the end of the Trujillo dictatorship. Bosch who was the founder of the PRD (1939) as well as the PLD (1973) together with allies had won 59.53 % of the vote before he was ousted by a military coup d´etat in 1963.
The first foreign dignitaries to congratulate Danilo Medina on the occasion of his re-election even before the final result had been published were Medardo González, Secretary General of El Salvador´s Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Spain´s Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The Congressional Elections
Elections of the bicameral National Congress confirmed the strength of the PLD which critics due to its omnipresence in all state institutions including the judiciary more and more compare with hegemonial „regime parties“ such as the former Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000 or the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) founded by Hugo Chavez following the 2002 coup d´etat.
In the 32 member Senate the PLD won 27 seats, while the PRM in El Seibo and Puerto Plata and the PRSC in San Pedro de Macorís and Valverde Mao provinces get two senators, respectively. In the coffee growing Ocoa province a regional group, the Institutional Social Democratic Block (BIS), won 1 seat. It was criticized by EOM and civil society that In the election of the bicameral Congress the ballot between senators and deputies is not separated and the former benefit from the number of votes cast for the latter.
Most notably Senator Felix Bautista (PLD), like Medina from San Juan province, with almost 70% of the vote is the most voted senator of the country. Neither the unsuccessful attempt by the General Prosecutor to accuse him of corruption and related charges, a case which was dropped by a Supreme Court judge in 2015, nor a global campaign undertaken by the Berlin based NGO Transparency International could prevent the astounding vote of confidence by „Sanjuaneros“ for their local son. Most of them consider Bautista a benefactor who awards scholarships to talented youths and grants to the poor and a kind of modern Robin Hood. Senator Cristina Lizardo (PLD), obtained more than 68 % of the vote in the National District. Also elected was Reinaldo Pared Pérez (PLD). In a still bitterly contested vote José Hazim (PRSC) seems to have won a seat for the opposition in San Pedro de Macoris province. In Puerto Plata the PLD incumbent conceded defeat to the youngest elected Senator José Ignacio Palizo (PRM).
Regarding the 190 member Chamber of Deputies which will also be dominated by a PLD majority, it is noteworthy that Danilo Medina´s sister Yomaira Medina was re-elected in San Juan de la Maguana. She is aspiring to become President oft he lower house. Several individual results might be interesting. If the trend is being maintained and the AP will stabilize its congressional vote above 1 % independent candidate Fidelio Despradel (77 years), a former revolutionary and member of the Movement 14 June (M14J), might be elected on the AP ticket. On the other hand, several former deputies who opted for a Senate race failed to win seats in the upper chamber and now lost everything, among them trade union activist Juan Hubieres (PRD), Ramón Rogelio Genao (PRSC spokesman) and Vinicio Castillo Seman (Progressive National Force – FNP).
The Municipal Elections
At municipal level 158 mayorships and 1,164 council members (regidores) were at stake. In particular, David Collado´s (PRM) surprising victory with 57.28 % over 14-year incumbent mayor Roberto Salcedo (PLD) with 36.45 % in the National District of the capital Santo Domingo brought the PRM an important victory and much more than a merely symbolic trophy. It was highly noted when Collado only days before the elections signed agreements with community leaders of impoverished and problematic „barrios“ like Cristo Rey which under President Leonel Fernandez had been strongholds of the PLD. Whether the new mayor can keep those pledges remains to be seen. Salcedo´s defeat is being attributed by analysts, on the one hand, to a lack of involvement and closeness to the social sectors, and, on the other hand, to internal disputes within the party during the primary process. Due to the much criticized pact which in 2015 had been concluded to facilitate Danilo Medina´s re-election and which insured incumbents their bid at re-election an open and democratic intra-party selection process of candidates was curtailed. This probably prevented the candidature of a popular and hopeful internal challenger who might have been the better choice for the PLD. In East Santo Domingo Alfredo Martínez (PLD) was elected in a contest against Manuel Jimenez (ex-PLD deputy) after former mayor Jesus de los Santos (PLD) had been shot dead last year.
In the second biggest and crime-ridden city Santiago de los Caballeros former President of the Chamber of Deputies Abel Martinez (PLD) was elected mayor against José Enrique Sued (PRSC). In San Pedro de Macoris hopeful former mayor, Sergio Cedeno (PRSC), had a fair chance to oust the incumbent local PLD administration. However, at the time of writing the result remains in dispute as, among others, do those in La Romana, Barahona, Bonao, and Pedro Brand. In San Juan de la Maguana Hanoi Sánchez (PLD) was re-elected. Well known „bachatero“ Raulín Rodríguez was elected mayor for the PLD in a newly established municipality in Montecristi province.
Controversial situations in several municipalities either led to protests or post-electoral violence (e.g. North and East Santo Domingo, Santiago, La Romana, Barahona, Bonao, Higüey, Bani, Pedro Brand, Mao) and/or to the preventive deployment of Military Police to protect the polling stations and the on-going manual count (e.g. Barahona, Pedernales, Pedro Brand, La Vega, San Francisco de Macorís). Impugnations of results were filed in Barahona.
Shortcomings, Difficulties and Irregularities
The Central Election Board (JCE) and its President Roberto Rosario can be established as the big losers of the day as they are held responsible for the shortcomings and disorder which affected the civic exercise in which more than 65 % of registered voters participated. It became evident during the electoral process that the JCE has not been able to fully guarantee fair and transparent elections. Whether the JCE will be tenable and survive until its mandate will expire in August 2016 seems doubtful. Opposition leaders have called for the resignation of the Board.
By stubbornly trying to impose the ill prepared electronic voting the JCE put at risk the entire democratic exercise. In around 30 % of the polling stations voters who showed up at 6 a.m. had to wait sometimes for more than two hours or to come back later during the day in order to exercise their right to vote. In most cases the delays were due to the last minute resignation of technical support staff who did not show up or to obsolete technical equipment (e.g. scanners for fingerprints, missing or malfunctioning USB sticks with the voters´ register). At times, presidents and members of the local election colleges were not informed or did not know how to operate the contingency manual vote. Due to the delays caused by this situation and a demand by the independent civil society organization Citizen Participation (PC) the JCE extended the vote for one hour from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. However, this instruction was not transmitted to all local election boards.
JCE-President Rosario personally contributed to the confusion and disorder when he did not clearly give instructions that in case of inoperability of electronic equipment the manual vote had to be applied. Consequently, political opposition parties in a joint document that accused the shortcomings of the electronic voting process demanded that final results at all three electoral levels only be established based on the manual count of the vote, and that no results be published beforehand. With a view to the imminent collapse of the voting exercise President Danilo Medina also spoke out in favor of the manual count. In addition, according to the Electoral Law the manual count prevails as the method to determine the final results. Consequently, Rosario´s early decision taken on 15 May 2016 at 7:05 hrs p.m. to successively make public the incoming provisional computed results caused more confusion among local electoral boards which in part stopped to perform the manual count as well as among the electorate itself. According to JCE member Eddy Olivares the JCE President´s decision had not been consulted or agreed with board members. Rosario tried to justify it with the long delays that would be caused by the manual counting of votes. Those would result in an increase of tensions between desperate party militants and lead to post-electoral violence including violent deaths. Olivares and other board members also claimed not knowing about the last minute hiring, training and subsequent resignation of technical support staff.
Other irregularities denounced by the media and civil society organizations such as PC which rendered three reports, consisted in buying or renting of voters´ identity cards, traditionally a widespread practice in the Dominican Republic, double voting and the provision of funds for transport of voters to their places of origin. Political parties also did not respect the ban of political propaganda in and in front of polling stations. In addition, isolated violent incidents and six deaths related to election day were reported.
The EOM Assessment and Recommendations
Statements by international election observers the day following the ballot confirmed that the electoral process must be considered a tightrope ride which due to disorder caused by the JCE barely crossed the finishing line. Finally, the EOMs deployed by the OAS, UNASUR and the Permanent Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean Political Parties (COPPAL) gave their avail to the elections which they considered transparent and highly participatory despite of the long delays in opening around 30 % of the polling stations, the last minute resignation of more than 3000 technical support staff, inoperability of technical equipment, unclear or missing instructions by the JCE, major confusion as regards the electronic and manual vote and the publication of provisional results, evidence for the buying of identidy cards and isolated violent incidents includig six deaths. However, despite of the detected shortcomings and irregularities the Head of the OAS EOM, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, emphasized in his press conference that the switching from electronic to manual vote was the decisive point that had saved the electoral process.
The list of key recommendations which will be elaborated by the OAS and UNASUR EOM in more detail in their final reports will in the first place address the necessity to overhaul the deficient legal framework for the electoral process including a reform oft he Electoral Law and secondary rules adopted by the JCE. In particular, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, in his press conference recommended to adopt a Law on Political Parties and new rules on political party financing including limitations for private party financing, to separate the congressional vote into ballots for senators and deputies, and, finally, to introduce electronic voting only gradually and in function of capacities of trained technical staff. The measures to be adopted should be in place by the next elections.
In general, it can be said that the presence of international EOMs significantly contributed to de-escalate the tension between the rival political camps caused by the conflictive issue of electronic vs. manual count of the vote. In order to follow up on the forthcoming EOM recommendations international donors should provide funds and technical assistance to conceptualize and implement electoral and political party reform in cooperation with the National Congress and the electoral authority.
Reaction of Opposition Parties
In a press conference on 17 May 2016 opposition leader Luis Abinader accused President Medina and his PLD of having „kidnapped“ the elections and „imposing“ his re-election and the desired results also at congressional and municipal levels by means of buying of votes. On election day nine political opposition parties supporting five presidential candidates in a joint document had already insisted that the JCE must not publish provisional results and had outlined the deficiencies of the electoral process including the buying of votes. They considered JCE action a plot against the democratic system resulting in a serious retrocession of Dominicans´ fundamental political right to freely exercise their vote. However, the document prepared under PRM stewardship which was presented to international observers was not signed by Guillermo Moreno´s AP. With tensions throughout the country growing, in particular in contested municipalities, the language used by opposition leaders got stronger and more and more inflammatory.
Subsequently, PRSC chairman Quique Antún accused the PLD of imposing „by force“ electoral results at congressional and municipal levels and like Abinader displaced himself to the provinces in support of beleaguered local candidates. Guillermo Moreno (AP) and marginalized female presidential candidate Minou Tavarez (Alliance for Democracy – AFD) qualified the electoral process as corrupt and fraudulent accusing the JCE of having perpetrated an „electoral coup d´etat“ (Tavarez), or considered the next Medina government as „illigitimate“ (Moreno).
While in the context of defending the vote against post-electoral alterations making noise is a well established practice in the Dominican Republic, the new opposition leader Luis Abinader would be well advised not to continue to threaten with ingovernability and to lure opposition candidates and their supporters to the barricades and into rebellions. As well known (pro-Medina) political analyst and professor of constitutional law Belarminio Ramírez Morillo put it in a post-election commentary, Abinader would rather grow in political stature by conceding defeat and displaying responsibility and maturity.