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Daily News - Monday, 19 May 2008

President Fernandez reelected
Dominicans gave four more years to President Leonel Fernandez and Vice President Rafael Alburquerque in the Friday, 16 May presidential election. Fernandez is credited with restoring macroeconomic stability and a favourable business climate after inheriting an economic and banking crisis.
Of a total of 5,764,387 registered voters, 4,086,541 valid votes were counted.
The Central Electoral Board issued a long awaited first bulletin at 10:10pm on Friday showing Fernandez leading with 53.12%, followed by Vargas with 41.22% and Aristy with 4.63%. The trend would keep. A final sixth bulletin for the evening, issued at 1:03am on Saturday, with 81.5% of the 13,075 voting stations accounted for, showed Fernandez maintained a 53.43% lead with 1,764,308 votes, followed by PRD candidate Miguel Vargas with 40.93% of the vote, and 1,351,461 votes. Amable Aristy of the PRSC had received 149,772 votes (4.54%), Eduardo Estrella of the Cuarta Via received 15,808 (0.48%), Guillermo Moreno of MIUCA received 14,663 votes (0.44%), Pedro de Jesus Candelier received 4,759 votes (0.14%) and Trajano Santana 1,195 (0.04%). A Saturday, 17 May morning 7th bulletin with continue to show Fernandez ahead with 53.55%, to Vargas's 40.68 and Aristy's 4.68%.
The final, Bulletin No. 9, issued at 6pm on Saturday, 17 May showed President Leonel Fernandez had won with a convincing 53.83% plurality (2,199,734 votes) last Friday. Miguel Vargas followed with 40.48% (1,654,066 votes), Amable Aristy received 4.59% (187,645 votes), Eduardo Estrella 0.47% (19,309 votes), Guillermo Moreno 0.44% (18,136 votes), Pedro de Jesus Candelier 0.15% (6,118 votes) and Trajano Santana 0.04% (1,533 votes).
Calling for a union of all interests, Fernandez thanked voters for giving him his third term in office and the first re-election in Dominican politics since Joaquin Balaguer was re-elected in 1990. His main challenger, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, had conceded defeat shortly after the second bulletin from the Central Electoral Board (JCE) was released to the public. The 53.8% garnered by Fernandez is down 3% from his results in the 2004 election. Vargas Maldonado and the PRD party slightly increased their vote, but fell short of the brass ring by around 13%.
Fernandez won in the National District all but 5 provinces. The PRD won in three northwestern provinces (Monte Cristi, Dajabon and Valverde), and in Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua) and Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui).

PLD sweeps in Santo Domingo
A total of 497,096 Santo Domingo city (the National District) residents voted in strong majority for the candidacy of President Leonel Fernandez. In the National District the Fernandez re-election bid received the support of 60.34% of voters, compared to 35.30% by Miguel Vargas of the PRD, 2.39% by Amable Aristy of the PRSC. Support for Fernandez in the Province of Santo Domingo was also strong. Another 764,096 voters in provincial municipalities gave a majority 58.29% for Fernandez, compared to 38.31% for the PRD, 2.47% for the PRSC.
The National District and province of Santo Domingo accounted for almost 31% of the vote.

29% abstention rate
As the Central Electoral Board issued its final 9th bulletin, it became apparent that the 2008 Presidential Election motivated less Dominicans to vote than the 2004 election. This year a full 29% of registered voters did not exercise their right to vote, and this is up 2% from the 2004 elections and with a larger demographic base. According to Listin Diario, this was the third largest abstention percentage in modern, post-Trujillo, elections. In 1990 there was a 40% abstention rate, in 1986 there was 30.5% abstention and this year, a 30% abstention rate. However, it must be noted that in 1986 there were only 3,039,347 registered voters, in 1990 there were 3,275,570 voters and this year there were 5,764,986 voters on the rolls.
In the 2008 election, of 5,764,387 registered voters, 4,113,644 went to the polls. In 2004, of 5,020,703 voters, 3,656,850 went to the polls for a 27% abstention. The 1,650,734 who did not vote this year were nearly the same amount as voted in 1978.

Parties lose official standing
At least three parties have lost their status as official parties on the Dominican political scene as a result of their performances in the recent elections. Since these parties did not reach 2% of the popular vote, they will have to re-apply for recognition by the Central Electoral Board (JCE), according to Law 275-97. The parties that did not make the grade are the Popular Alliance Party (PAP), led by hardliner and former general Pedro de Jesus Candelier; the Alternative Democratic Movement (MODA), an ally of the PRD; and the Movement for Unity and Change (MIUCA) with Guillermo Moreno as its candidate. These parties lose their political status since they have neither municipal nor congressional representation. Other parties that did not reach even one percent of the vote maintained their status since they backed presidential candidacies that received the minimum vote.

Guillermo Moreno's first try
Last minute candidate Guillermo Moreno of MIUCA, running for President for the first time, is encouraged by his numbers into the 2008 presidential election. The candidate ended with a 0.44% of the vote, receiving 18,136 votes, compared to the 0.47% received by former PRSC candidate Eduardo Estrella running on the PRSD ticket, grouping PRD and PRSC dissidents, who received 19,309 votes or 0.47% of the vote. Moreno defeated minority candidates Pedro Candelier, who received 6,188 votes (0.15%) and Trajano Santana, running for the PRI, who received 1,533 votes (0.04%).
In a letter summing up his participation in the election, Moreno said: "We were always aware that for us the 16 May was not about getting there, but about being a departure point." Moreno had advocated that change is possible in the way that politics are carried out.
In the city of Santo Domingo (National District) Moreno came in fourth, with 1.15%, more than Eduardo Estrella of the PRSD who received 0.57, Pedro Candelier of the PAP with 0.19% and Trajano Santana of the PRI who received 0.05%. In the province of Santo Domingo, Moreno also outperformed the other minority party candidates, with MIUCA receiving 0.46%, PRSD 0.29%, PAP 0.15% and PRI 0.04%.

OAS praises process
Organization of American States representative Jose Bordon has congratulated the Dominican people for their civic spirit as demonstrated in Friday's elections. The OAS specialist also called on the government to overcome its weak areas such as the use of government resources and the way publicity was handled during the campaign. Praising the participants, Bordon told Listin Diario reporters that the country has advanced in election procedures, and he was optimistic about those areas of weakness. During a press conference, Bordon also transmitted a message from OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who expressed his satisfaction that the elections had gone well and sent his respects to the government, the opposition parties and to the JCE for their efforts.

Hospitals see holiday increase
Emergency departments in the principal health centers in Santo Domingo saw a typical holiday increase in accident victims over the long weekend caused by Friday's election. Patients treated included accident victims, stomach disorders and victims of violence by stabbings, blunt instruments and gunshots. Doctors at the Dario Contreras Hospital said that most of the patients were not the result of the excitement surrounding the elections but rather the result of a long four-day weekend that started at midday on Thursday. At the Dario Contreras Hospital, most of the weekend cases were motorcycle accident victims.

PC exit polls were right on
The exit polls carried out by Participacion Ciudadana (Citizen Participation) were very close to being duplicates of the official bulletins released by the Central Electoral Board (JCE). PC said that the PLD had carried the election with 54%, while the actual count was 53.83%. Close enough. The exit polls also found that the PRD and Miguel Vargas Maldonado would get 40.1% of the votes, and they received 40.48%. Again, close enough. The PC group obtained these figures in exit polls at 1,000 polling stations, chosen at random, all over the Dominican Republic. Even their figures on the minor candidates were very close to the final results. PC, nevertheless, released the results after the JCE gave the final count, as per the electoral lawrequirement.

Voting overseas
After spending millions of dollars to register 154,797 overseas voters, set up polling stations in 11 countries. Dominican overseas voters did not even respond with a 50% turnout. Only 75,958 people voted on Friday, slightly less than half of the registered voters. The United States has the most voters, with 52,522 people voting, a good turnout. In Europe, Spain had the most voters with 10,022.
This compares to 52,440 Dominicans who registered to vote in the 2004 presidential election, for a tripling of registered voters. In 2004, 35,342 Dominicans actually voted, or 71% of the total registered.

Fernandez allies add 9%
The small political parties allied with the PLD accounted for nearly 9% of the popular vote in favor of Leonel Fernandez. The PLD, by itself, garnered 44.94% of the votes, and with the 8.90% received by their allies, a first round win was assured. The Alliance for Democracy (APD) came up with 1.96% of the votes, the Social Democrat Institutional Block (BIS) produced 1.27%, and the National Progressive Force (FNP) won 1.19%. These were the 'big' vote getters among minority parties supporting the PLD.

Clientelism in the 2008 election
An analysis of the success or failure of clientilistic practices in the 2008 political campaigns shows that while clientilism may have added many votes at a very high cost, it also could have led to the parties losing more votes on other fronts.
President Leonel Fernandez's re-election bid, based in great part on a very costly and highly touted spree of securing alliances through clientelistic practices in the final months of campaigning, did bring in thousands of new supporters. The final numbers, nevertheless, may suggest the practices could have alienated thousands of others.
Fernandez received 2,199,734 (53.83%) of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. The total was only 6.5% or 135,863 more than the 2,063,871 votes (57.1%) he received in the 2004 presidential election.
Minority parties that backed Fernandez's candidacy with followers lured by jobs in government and other clientelistic practices contributed 214,430 votes. These were the BIS (51,759 votes), PUN (12,903 votes), PTD (29,788 votes), PQDC (39,717 votes), UDC (39,319 votes), PPC (20,730 votes) and PRLD (20,214 votes), for the total of 214,430 votes. Two other minority parties, the APD, headed by long time PLD-supporting politician Max Puig (adding 79,950 votes), and the FNP party, led by very active senator Pelegrin Castillo (adding 58,432 votes), are excluded from the numbers of minority parties for this analysis because they have traditionally supported the PLD candidacy.
On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of people who voted for Fernandez in 2004 could have been among the 286,890 additional voters who abstained in the 2008 election compared to the 2004 election. Abstention in 2008 was 29%, 2% up from the 27% rate in 2004. In 2008, 1,650,743 eligible voters did not turn out.
There were also 395,323 new voters in the 2008 election, including a majority of first time voters in the youngest age group, which polls said was most likely to vote for Fernandez.
The Miguel Vargas (PRD) campaign was also marked by handouts. But supporters were less optimistic about getting government jobs as international polling organizations consistently showed him lagging behind in the polls. Nonetheless Vargas, who has been highly criticized for alleged corrupt business practices including during his time as minister of Public Works, was able to attract 438,138 more votes in 2004, again probably luring back many who had voted for Fernandez in 2004 as well as some new voters, for a 36% increase. Miguel Vargas received 1,654,066 votes (40.48%) compared to 1,215,928 votes for Hipolito Mejia when he sought re-election in 2004 in the wake of the worst economic and banking crisis ever to shake the DR.
The PRSC, implementing the most openly clientelistic campaign of all, fared the worst. There has been a progressive disintegration of the party. PRSC members have been ready to migrate to the PLD, openly accepting offers of jobs and other perks in return for their support. PRSC presidential candidate Amable Aristy received 187,645 votes (4.59%). The PRSC candidacy received 312,493 votes in the 2004 election, for 8.5% of the total vote then. Even PRSC dissident and presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Eduardo Estrella, who ran on the PRSD ticket of Hatuey de Camps, a former PRD party president and today PRD dissident, failed to attract the once majority PRSC vote and received just 19,309 votes (0.47%) nationwide.

Swap short for long-term politics
Sociologist Rosario Espinal, Latin American studies professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, wrapped up her observations of Friday's presidential election on Telesistema Channel 11's electoral special last night. Interviewed by Juan Bolivar Diaz, Ana Mitila Lora, Rafael Toribio and Rafael Nunez, she called on the political parties to swap shortsightedness for a long-term vision of politics and democracy at the service of the nation's development. She stressed that there had to be a change in mentality and the political will to strengthen the nation's institutions and work for the progress of the nation and not for individual benefits.
Espinal commented that what is needed in Dominican politics is increased regulation of the electoral campaigns. She described the 2008 campaign as too long and too costly, characterized by hyper-clientelism, political defections and the disintegration of the Reformist Party (PRSC). "Elections can't swallow democracy. Democracy is also about giving answers to the people's needs. One can't be in politics at the expense of good government", she emphasized.
She says that clientelism has reached new levels precisely because of the combination of weak government institutions and increasing poverty. She stresses the urgent need for new political will to strengthen the state institutions. "Without political will, hyper-clientelism will not be able to be controlled," she stated.
She explained that this has not been done yet because Dominican politicians are short-term minded. They are thinking of how they can benefit now, or how they can keep themselves in power, or are concerned that they need to benefit now because they may not be here tomorrow.
Espinal advocates for a strengthening of civil society, one that becomes more organized, capable of having an effect and able to demand accountability from politicians. She says that civil society needs to get the point where it be heard by the parties. "The political parties are not afraid of civil society today because it does not have the power to mobilize people, it is too fragmented", she commented. On the other side, she explained that Dominican society is party-centered, which gives the political parties lots of space to act.
She said that political parties must abandon their short-term mindedness, so that the nation counts, and long-term progress is put first. "There is a need for a change in mentality," she explained.

Montas calls for "adjustments"
With the election victory safe in the PLD corner, the Minister for Economy, Planning and Development, Temistocles Montas, has issued a call for "adjustments", or what he called "fiscal discipline". Another item on the Montas agenda is the creation of a national front to tackle the food and energy challenges facing the nation. Listin Diario says that Montas called on the opposition to refrain from blocking the administration's work, since betting on a government failure would be "catastrophic for the country".

Three strategic areas
The Federation of Industrial Associations (FAI) said that it was a positive step on the part of the government to decide to draw up a plan to tackle the food crisis, the electricity crisis and the high cost of fuel products. According to an FAI press release, the position taken by minister Temistocles Montas is positive, especially his call for fiscal prudence in the coming months. The FAI called on the government to take a good look at four proposals made by economist Pavel Isa Contreras in response to the food crisis facing the nation. Isa Contreras, who works for the United Nations World Food Program, is proposing programs to encourage breastfeeding, school lunches as well as school breakfasts, an expansion of the farmers' markets and an increase in funding for the government's 'Food Comes First' program. The FAI is composed of medium and small-scale industrial groups.

Cardinal calls for unity
The Dominican cardinal, Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, has called on the people to come together to face the crises that are affecting the nation. Lopez Rodriguez gave his sermon at a Mass offered in thanksgiving by President Leonel Fernandez. Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez said "I call upon all of you, beginning with you Mr. President and your wife, and you Mr. Vice-President and your wife, and all of you, to continue trusting that the Good Lord will continue to help us, that the Lord will continue to bless this nation". The Mass was held at the Cathedral in Santo Domingo, the first cathedral in the New World.
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