Triumph of a people

Danilo Medina has been elected as the new president of the Dominican Republic

“More than the triumph of a man, of a party or of a colour, this is the triumph of a people.”

These are the words of the new leader, employing the usual Latin power oratory to celebrate winning the contest that took place at the end of last month.

“I am not on an electoral campaign, I am building a dream.

We have chosen to change the present and design a better future for our children, one in which all Dominicans, at home and abroad, will feel proud of, having been born on this beautiful island.”

But has the present really been changed? This is Medina’s first shot at the big-time, having been beaten to the top job in 2000 by the man he saw off this time, Hipólito Mejía. But whilst the face may have changed, the body has not, as Medina was the candidate from the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Outgoing president Leonel Fernández has been supported internationally, especially by the United States, and the many foreign investors in the country will be eager to see Fernández’ legacy continued. The leaving president has certainly written his name into the history books, as he was the first politician from the PLD to win a free presidential election and has been in charge for three terms (1996-2000, and 2004-12).

Danilo Medina campaigned on a string of promises, ranging from “creating 400,000 decent jobs in the next four years” to “kick-starting a new model of public investment that will bring progress to the most lowly in our society”. Can he really build such a dream? Domestic aims, such as “unleashing a merciless war against unemployment” were popular on the campaign trail but will be hard to accomplish in their entirety. Rising crime is a growing issue on the island and Medina has intimated that criminality is growing from a listless youth, something he wants to get rid of by getting the young to participate in the ‘energy and progress of the country’.

The election was not problem-free and Medina’s rival Hipólito Mejía, who served as president from 2000-2004, complained about the outcome of the vote, which saw him poll 47% to Medina’s 51%, saying “[the results] are the product of manipulation and an abuse of power”. His would-be vice-president has said that the Dominican Revolutionary Party will table a report detailing alleged incidents of fraud but the Organisation of American States has been pretty pleased with the freedom and fairness of the election.

One issue that did not come up much in the campaign was the problem of the neighbours. Haitians are the largest minority in the Dominican Republic but the relationship between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola can be rocky. The former French colony is the more impoverished of the two by a clear margin and is still recovering from 2010’s earthquake. Dominicans are wary of any destabilising effects that Haitian problems could provoke in their own half of the island.

A stable economy is important not just to Santo Domingo but to the region and wider interests, such as the US. But it is hard to try to balance parochial protectionism with altruistic development support. At the moment, the bombastic rhetoric of the traditional Latin president may suffice. La república is doing well; whether this new president can sustain the charge in the face of unruly neighbours, rising regional crime and global economic unrest will be a serious challenge. As Dilma knows in Brazil, inheriting your predecessor’s similar party political footsteps is the easy part. Trying to slip into them and carve out your own path at the same time is more difficult.

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