Opposition candidate Luis Abinader has claimed victory in the Dominican Republic’s presidential race after voters on Sunday braved a worsening coronavirus outbreak to cast their ballots for a new leader and legislature.
Abinader’s rivals and the outgoing president also recognised his win, which ends 16 years of unbroken rule by the Caribbean nation’s centre-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).
“We won, today we win, but we will never forget who we owe this victory to,” the 52-year-old businessman said from a platform before dozens of followers at his campaign headquarters in the capital Santo Domingo.
“We owe it to you, the Dominican people. That is why tonight we all won.”
According to data from the central electoral board after around 60% of ballots had been counted, Abinader gained around 1.2mn votes — around 53%.
The PLD’s candidate Gonzalo Castillo came second in a six-man field, with 838,000 votes — or 37% — according to the incomplete figures.
Castillo said the official count “shows that there is an irreversible trend and that from now on we have a president-elect... Our congratulations to Luis Abinader.”
Outgoing President Danilo Medina also accepted the businessman’s victory, tweeting his “congratulations to the new president-elect @LuisAbinader.”
Abinader’s win was is yet to be formally announced by the electoral board.
Gunfire outside a polling station in the capital left one person dead, police said.
A fight had erupted between supporters of different parties outside a school in Santo Domingo, when one man pulled a gun and shot another man before fleeing, according to police. Local media identified the victim as a member of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM).
But elsewhere, voting appeared to progress smoothly, with few disruptions despite the extra virus precautions.
“It’s pretty fluid and very well organised. The truth is I didn’t expect it,” said Maribel Roman, a 47-year-old business consultant, as she waited for her turn to vote.
The election, which was pushed back from May 17, was held despite the epidemic’s explosive spread, with the number of new Covid-19 cases hitting a record high on Sunday for a third consecutive day.
Medina, who could not seek another term under the country’s constitution, was forced to impose a national lockdown, easing it only last week as parties made a final drive for votes.
In power since 2012, Medina presided over high economic growth rates — an average of more than 6% annually between 2014 and 2018 — before the pandemic hit.
However, the government’s popularity has been dented by corruption allegations and Medina’s previous attempts to seek an unconstitutional third term in office.
Abinader had to suspend his campaign after testing positive for the coronavirus, but recovered sufficiently to lead a rally tomorrow.
An observer team from the Organisation of American States (OAS) monitored the vote, but its leader, former Chilean president Eduardo Frei, was unable to be present because of travel restrictions.
Some 7.5mn Dominicans were eligible to cast ballots in the election.
Also up for grabs are 32 senate seats, 190 seats in the lower house and 20 representatives to the Central American parliament.
“Change is coming and the PLD is going,” Abinader, who is considered a centrist, promised hundreds of his supporters at a closing rally tomorrow.
Corruption has been a key issue after protests in recent years over the involvement of local officials in the Latin America-wide Odebrecht graft scandal.
The Brazilian construction giant has admitted to doling out $92mn in bribes in the Dominican Republic in exchange for winning public works contracts.
The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, ranks 137th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index.
Despite health protocols at polling stations, Health Minister Rafael Sanchez Cardenas said it would be “practically impossible” not to have fresh outbreaks of Covid-19.
The pandemic has already hit polling by the Republic’s 600,000 overseas voters — representing almost 8% of the electoral roll.
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