Voters in the Dominican Republic were scheduled to choose a new president yesterday in a race that, while very close, could well avoid a second round, polls said.
The high cost of living, unemployment, corruption and elevated crime rate were top issues in the race between ruling Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina, 60, and former Dominican president Hipolito Mejia, 71, leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party.
Clashes between the candidates’ supporters have left two dead in recent weeks and the Dominican Supreme Electoral Tribunal has had to instruct both candidates to tone down their rhetoric.
The Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, side-stepped the global economic crisis in 2008, but remains mired in poverty despite solid economic growth under Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.
A Greenberg poll published early in the week gave Medina 51 percent of likely votes, compared to 46 percent for Mejia. Such a tight margin could leave four minor candidates splitting the few remaining points.
A Gallup poll late last month gave Medina 51 percent and Mejia 44.6 percent.
Neither said it was likely that no candidate would win the 50-percent-plus-one of the votes needed to avoid a runoff next month
Fernandez’s wife Margarita Cedeno is Medina’s running mate, reinforcing his image as a candidate who will see through the current government’s liberal economic policies, promising “safe change.”
The mountainous nation still depends heavily on tourism, remittances from Dominicans living overseas, aid from the IMF and cheap oil from Venezuela.
Inflation surpassed 7 percent last year, unemployment was 14.6 percent and 30 percent of its 10 million people live in poverty.
Mejia has shaped his campaign around promises to fight poverty with social programs and policies to boost agriculture and aid farm workers.
An agronomist by training, Mejia has a strong following among poor farmers, with a down home style and rhetoric that helped him win the presidency in 2004, when he defeated Medina.
There are 6.5 million Dominican voters, including 328,000 who live outside the country, about a third of them in New York.