By Felivia Mejía
The Dominican Republic will have a new president for the next four years beginning August 16, after chemical engineer and economist Danilo Medina, 60, triumphed in the May 20 election.
It was Medina’s second try at the presidency with the ruling Dominican Liberation Party, or PLD, and was reminiscent of his 2000 run. Again, his lead opponent was former president Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004), 71, a candidate with the Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD.
Medina garnered 51.2 percent of votes, while Mejía earned 46.9 percent, according to official figures released by the Central Electoral Board. The other four participating political organizations altogether did not reach 2 percent of total votes.
And for the second time, the country will have a woman vice-president. This time, it will be the current first lady, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández.
Medina will replace Leonel Fernández, who has served two consecutive terms for the last eight years, and was also president from 1996 to 2000.
Fernández’s administration was known for its heavy investment in infrastructure in the country’s capital of Santo Domingo. Fernández has expressed his satisfaction at turning Santo Domingo into a “Little New York”, due to the overpasses and tunnels built on the city’s avenues and the construction of a controversial second subway line. However, he has been accused of neglecting the country’s rural areas.
Political scientist and sociologist Rosario Espinal said the reason the PLD was able to maintain power for three consecutive terms was because the PRD government in power until 2004 ended with a collapsed economy, and a large part of Dominicans fear a repeat of that scenario.
“The PLD has had so much power because the opposition has been so bad. The people don’t have a good, credible electoral option. There is a feeling of fatigue among the people, but they continue voting for that party because they have no alternative”, Espinal told Latinamerica Press.
Meanwhile, political scientist Freddy Ángel Castro attributed the PLD’s popularity to solidifying “the right campaign plan”.
“We are talking about a unified party, which has meant it earned the support from the majority of parties”, Castro said to Latinamerica Press.
The new administration will take the reins of an economically stable country but with weaknesses that make that economy fragile, like a budget deficit from the beginning and tax revenues that fail to reach their goals. Economics expert Héctor Linares said the economy is expected to slow down during the second half of the year.
“There are no official figures on the budgetary implementation in the first months of the year, but there is speculation that government spending soared in the first five months”, he explained.
Average annual growth of 4.5 percent in the Dominican Republic since 2005 is based on mining, free trade zones, local manufacturing, agriculture, financial intermediation and insurance, trade, hotels and restaurants, according to the Dominican Economic Report released in January by the county’s Central Bank.
Economist Porfirio García believes that to address the budget deficit this year, Medina must have a policy of economic adjustment that induces a reduction of unnecessary government spending, including cutting back on advertising and eliminating numerous duplicated positions in public institutions.
He noted that spending should be on quality public works aimed at the population’s needs, such as aqueduct construction to improve water service, and other infrastructure projects.
“The situation in our country is related to what is happening in the world. The economic crisis in developed countries is reflected in our country; consequently, the perspective will be subject to global economic performance and the measures taken by the government”, García told Latinamerica Press.
García said the government will have to confront the high unemployment rate that, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, reached 14.3 percent in 2010.
According to García, high unemployment, despite the country’s economic growth, is because jobs were not created and most of the government investment did not occur in the productive sector.
The new government “has the challenge of facing the high cost of living and lack of public safety that affects us. If the government focuses on these aspects it will earn the people’s acceptance”, he said.
Controlled inflation and a stable exchange rate are strong points for the next administration. The country ended 2011 with an inflation rate of 7.7 percent, according to the Central Bank, while the exchange rate remained between 38-39 pesos on the dollar.
Promises of the new president
Improving the deficient power grid will be another challenge for the new president. Medina’s main goals, as proposed in his government plan, are to reduce poverty, lifting 400,000 people out of it by creating new and decent jobs and ensuring gender-equal opportunities.
According to the government´s 2010 Millennium Development Goals Monitoring Report, extreme poverty affected 10.4 percent of the country’s 10 million inhabitants, and overall poverty reached 34 percent.
This year, a proposal by the Coalition for a Dignified Education gained popularity. It demanded that 4 percent of the gross domestic product go toward education, in accordance with the law, since what is currently invested in the sector doesn’t even reach 2 percent. Medina, like the other candidates, promised to take up this cause.
He also promised to establish school hours until 4 pm to include breakfast and lunch for all students, and eliminate illiteracy.
Medina’s government plan calls for bringing at least 1.4 million Dominicans under family health insurance, establish a good public health system at low cost to citizens, and eliminate hospital fees.