POWER changed hands in the Dominican Republic for the first time since 2004 due to the pandemic and the incumbent’s curse, an expert has told Redaction Politics.
Gonzalo Castillo and the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) were ousted in Sunday’s elections as Luis Abinader collected 53 per cent of the vote – enough to win him office in the first round.
It was the only election in recent times where a third major party, led by former President and Dominican Liberation Party leader Leonel Fernández, which threw another spanner in the works of the governing party.
Diego Sanchez-Ancochea of the University of Oxford told Redaction Politics that voter fatigue, corruption and the split in the PLD were all key factors in the incumbent’s downfall.
He said: “I think it is a combination of four forces:
“(a) the consequences of the pandemic, including one of the highest abstention rates in the country’s democratic history.
“(b) tiredness with the PLD after sixteen years in government.
“(c) several corruption scandals and the poor response to them, which showed a government increasingly out of touch with the population; and lastly, the split in the PLD with the leaving of President Fernández.”
Originally planned for 17 May, the elections saw a reasonably low in-person turnout of 55.3 percent.
Despite Abinader placing himself to the left of the PLD, Mr Sanchez-Ancochea suggested the economic ethos of the Dominican Republic under the Modern Revolutionary Party will barely change.
He said: “Historically, Abinader’s party has been slightly to the left of the PLD.
“One of the key economists in his team Miguel Ceara is a serious, left-wing economist.
“Yet in practice, this may only lead to changes in the margins: maybe an increase in social spending and more support for small businesses. Overall, the key elements of the Dominican model will remain unchanged.”
It is also unlikely that the nation, which has very strong ties to the US, will act as a leftist bulwark against imperialism in the region.
The University of Oxford Professor said: “The Dominican political elite, including the two dominant political parties, have a very similar perspective on economic development, globalization and relations to the US and the UK.
“They are all supportive of relatively free trade, consider tourism, light manufacturing exports and remittances as central for the model of development and hope to keep close ties with the US. This is not going to change.”
Morgan Ortagus, a US Department of State spokesman, said: The United States congratulates the people of the Dominican Republic on their democratic elections and looks forward to partnering with President-elect Abinader and his government.
“We will continue to work together to promote security and economic prosperity and safeguard democracy for citizens throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
So what does this mean for the Dominican Republic left?
Fernández, running on the People’s Force ticket, gives the guise of progressivism and is the successor of the Dominican Workers’ Party.
However, during his 12 years in office, leftist critics accused Fernandez of attacking the peoples’ standard of living, despite the Dominican Republic enjoying the fastest economic growth rate in the continent.
Mr Sanchez-Ancochea suggested that the People’s Force had done relatively well compared to past elections because of their well-recognised candidate, but worse than some experts predicted.
He added: “President Fernández’s policy outlook is very similar to that of the main political parties so I don’t think this should be read a victory for the left in any way.”
The unfortunate message for Dominican leftists, he added, was not to expect any significant change.
In fact, any progressive policies may be balanced out by the need for fiscal constraints after the pandemic.
“I don’t expect many changes from past policies: probably just an increase in support for small firms and a moderate growth of social spending,” Professor Sanchez-Ancochea said.
“Yet at the end, the policies will be partly constraint by the fiscal position of the country and the depth of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Diego Sanchez-Ancochea heads Department of International Development at University of Oxford.
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