The mask-wearing voters in the Dominican Republic endured a growing coronavirus epidemic Sunday to cast their votes for the Caribbean country’s next president and legislature.
Luis Abinader, the frontrunner in the presidential contest, aims to break 16 years of unending control by the center-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). A party whose nominee Gonzalo Castillo, according to pre-vote polling, was running second in a six-man field.
Gunfire outside the capital’s polling station left one individual dead after a disagreement turned violent among opponent party activists, police confirmed.
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But elsewhere, the voting seemed to proceed smoothly, with little delays given the virus-induced extra precautions.
“It’s pretty flexible and well structured. The fact is, I didn’t foresee it,” said Maribel Roman, a 47-year-old business consultant, waiting for her turn to vote.
Given the rapid spread of the disease, the voting, rescheduled once from May 17, took place as the number of reported COVID-19 cases reached record highs Sunday for a third straight day.
Health officials also announced that there had been 1,241 fresh cases over the last 24 hours. Meanwhile, the country is with 37,425 cases and 794 deaths.
Dominican Republic votes amidst coronavirus pandemic
Current president Danilo Medina, could not run for another term under the constitution of the country. He had to enforce a national lockdown, relaxing it just last week as the parties held a final ballot.
Abinader, a 52-year-old merchant, had to postpone his campaign. This was after a positive coronavirus test. However, he healed enough to head Wednesday’s closing election rally.
“Respecting social distance, exercise your right to vote today,” stated Julio Cesar Castanos, Leader of the Central elections Board, declaring that the polls were free.
Furthermore, the Observer Team of the Organization of American States (OAS) supervised the voting. However, its head, former Chilean President Eduardo Frei, was unable to participate due to travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, about 7.5 million Dominicans are qualified to cast election ballots.
There are also 32 seats in the Senate, 190 seats in the lower house. Also, there is an additional 20 seats in the Central American Parliament.
“Change is coming, and the PLD is moving forward,” Abinader, labeled a centrist, told an audience of hundreds of his supporters at Wednesday’s closing rally.
A Gallup poll offers Abinader over 53% of the voter choices, 20 points ahead of Castillo’s ruling PLD. Another poll marks a slimmer 12-point gap for Abinader.
“The Dominican people should know that a president is elected in a day. However, the impacts last for four years,” Castillo advised a crowd of his supporters in the town of Monte Plata.
Corruption has become a crucial challenge in recent years. Besides, there were protests over the participation of various officials in the Odebrecht graft scandal across Latin America.
The Brazilian construction giant has confessed to paying 92 million dollars in bribes in the Dominican Republic in return for getting public works contracts.
The country that occupies the island of Hispaniola with Haiti places 137th out of 180 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Ranking.
The presidency is also contested by four other contestants, including the former president Leonel Fernandez.
Following the implementation of health guidelines at polling stations, Minister of Health Rafael Sanchez Cardenas claimed it would be “practically impossible” not to have new COVID-19 cases.
“We should push beyond this line on July 5. Hoping that there will be no influx of cases and that we will be able to respond,” stated the Minister.
The country’s 600,000 overseas voters have now been hit by the pandemic — representing approximately eight percent of the electoral roll.
Most of them live in the USA, Spain, and Puerto Rico, where polling took place. However, expatriates in Italy and Panama were not permitted to vote because of the restrictions on coronavirus in effect.
The Dominican Republic is one of the fastest rising economies in the region, with an estimated annual increase of 6.3 percent between 2013 and 2018, as per the World Bank.
However, the bank cautioned that the pandemic threats would drive it deeper into poverty.
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