Dominican Republic votes in election postponed over virus

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Dominican Republic voters, 5 July 2020

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Reuters

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Social distancing and other hygiene measures are in place for the vote

People in the Dominican Republic have voted for a new president, in a poll overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis.

The election, which was postponed from May because of the country’s outbreak, could end the Dominican Liberation Party’s 16 years in power.

Opinion polls suggest Luis Abinader of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) is likely to win – after recovering from Covid-19.

Dominicans will also be choosing members of both houses of parliament.

Incumbent President Danilo Medina is ineligible to stand for re-election, having served two consecutive terms since 2012.

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes in Sunday’s first round, a run-off will be held.

Who are the top candidates for president?

Opinion polls have consistently put Luis Abinader ahead of all other candidates.

 Dominican opposition presidential candidate for the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) Luis Abinader

AFP

Luis AbinaderSource: BBC Monitoring

Mr Abinader, whose family is of Lebanese descent, is a US-educated economist.

He is executive president of Grupo Abicor, a firm owned by his family which operates major tourism projects in the Dominican Republic.

He ran for president in 2016 and made it into the second round, but lost to Mr Medina, who beat him by almost 27 percentage points.

Mr Abinader and his wife announced on 11 June that they had tested positive for coronavirus and he had to temporarily stop campaigning while he recovered.

The Dominican Republic is one of the worst-affected countries in the Caribbean, with more than 35,000 confirmed cases and more than 775 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Mr Abinader surged ahead in the opinion polls after a split in the governing party.

President Medina, who has been in power since 2012, has given his backing to party candidate Gonzalo Castillo, a former minister of public works.

 Gonzalo Castillo speaks during a press conference  in 2017

Getty

Gonzalo CastilloSource: BBC Monitoring

Mr Castillo is a wealthy businessman who has founded a number of companies over the years, including aviation firm Helidosa and air ambulance service Aeroambulancia.

But some Dominican Liberation Party supporters may switch allegiance to former president Leonel Fernández.

Mr Fernández, who was president from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2004 to 2012, decided to run for the People’s Force party, which he has been leading since he left the Dominican Liberation Party.

Leonel Fernandez speaking at a news conference

Getty

Leonel FernándezSource: BBC Monitoring

He studied law in the Dominican Republic but spent much of his youth in New York. He has worked as a lawyer, university professor and author.

Opinion polls have him in third place behind Mr Abinader and Mr Castillo.

However pollsters acknowledged that, with the elections being held under unprecedented circumstances amid the continuing pandemic, it was hard to predict how voters would react on the day.

All candidates had to severely curtail their campaigning due to the virus, but the president of the central electoral board assured voters that polling stations had received hygiene kits and that the nation was “ready” for the elections.

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