Opposition declares victory in DR’s virus-scarred vote

      Opposition declares victory  in DR’s virus-scarred vote

Presidential candidate Luis Abinader, of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party PRM, celebrates with his wife Raquel Arbaje after winning with the absolute majority, in Santiago, Dominican Republic July 5. Photo credit: REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas.

 

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic--The Dominican Republic’s opposition presidential candidate, Luis Abinader, declared victory late on Sunday, as early results in a poll marked by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic showed him poised to end the ruling party’s 16-year grip in power.

  A preliminary count of 46 per cent of ballots cast showed Abinader (52) of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party PRM, won 52.51 per cent of the vote, which if sustained would be enough to avoid a runoff election. Gonzalo Castillo (59) of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party PLD, whose candidacy was endorsed by President Danilo Medina, was in second place at 37.68 per cent. Both parties are centrist and pro-business.

  Medina (68) who served two consecutive four-year terms, was ineligible to seek re-election after failing to win sufficient backing for a constitutional change to run again.

  “Today we vanquished fear with hope, and doubt with determination,” Abinader told supporters at his campaign headquarters.

  Voters had tasked him, he said, with tackling “the most difficult challenges of our history”, namely the country’s coronavirus outbreak, one of the worst in Latin America, and its economic impact.

  The US educated economist and tourism industry leader, with no prior experience in government, had to briefly suspend appearances last month after testing positive for the virus himself. He says he has since recovered and tested negative.

  Abinader said he would seek to re-launch growth in the country of 10.4 million, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, hurt in particular by the blow the pandemic dealt to its key tourism industry.

  Castillo conceded defeat early on Monday. “Our congratulations to Luis Abinader,” Castillo told supporters gathered outside his campaign headquarters overnight. “This is a well-deserved triumph, and we wish God guides him and gives him the health to wisely manage our country.”

  The PLD’s strong economic record does not look to have been enough to compensate for voter grievances over its management of the outbreak, dogged inequality and corruption allegations.

  The Caribbean’s largest economy, has achieved 7 per cent annual growth over the past decade, but has dropped 38 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index during that time to 137th out of 180 countries.

  The PLD was also seriously weakened after former President Leonel Fernandez (66) broke away to form a splinter party in October. The early results put him in a distant third place with 8.72 per cent of the vote. Fernandez and President Danilo Medina also congratulated Abinader and his Modern Revolutionary Party PRM on their win. All leading parties are centrist.

  The presidential and parliamentary elections took place as coronavirus cases continued to hit record daily highs four months after the first reported cases. The country has reported 37,425 cases and 794 deaths.

  Critics say the government did not act quickly enough, reopened the economy too soon last month and is too slow with testing.

  Meanwhile the Organization of American States (OAS) said on Sunday one of the nine members of its electoral observation mission had tested positive for coronavirus and been quarantined.

  The OAS mission said it had detected lapses in social distancing during the day despite efforts by the authorities, which also imposed measures such as requiring voters to wear face masks and disinfect their hands before casting their ballot.

  The government had postponed the elections from May, but would have had to amend the constitution to postpone them again.

  Some Dominicanos abroad could not vote because of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.~ Reuters ~