Dominican Republic ruling party candidate Danilo Medina’s promise to continue the economic policies of President Leonel Fernandez has given him the lead in opinion polls heading into today’s presidential election.
The latest voter surveys show Medina, 60, of the Dominican Liberation Party holding an edge over former President Hipolito Mejia, 71, of the Dominican Revolutionary Party going into today’s first-round vote. To win and avoid a June run-off vote, one candidate must garner over 50 percent of the ballots cast.
Medina, who lost the 2000 election to Mejia and later served as Fernandez’s chief of staff, says that he represents “safe change” and that electing Mejia will result in slower growth. During Mejia’s 2000-2004 presidency, the economy shrank in 2003 for the only time in the last 20 years, public debt surged and the country’s second-biggest bank collapsed. Since Fernandez’s election in 2004, the Dominican economy has averaged 7 percent annual growth.
“We are going to maintain the stability and growth and an appropriate investment climate to continue to develop,” Medina said in a May 10 interview posted on his website. “We are the safe choice that assures the people continued growth. The other option is uncertainty and adventure.”
Medina had 51 percent support compared with 46 percent for Mejia in a survey of 1,022 people taken May 2-7 by pollster Greenberg Quinlan Rosener and Santo Domingo-based newspaper Diario Libre. The remaining support was spread among the four other candidates, according to the poll whose margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.
Heavy rains pounded the country much of the week and additional showers are expected today, according to the national meteorology institute.
National polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m., and the national electoral committee expects to be able to announce final results from 14,470 voting stations tonight.
Roughly 300,000 ballots will be cast by Dominicans living abroad, or about 5 percent of the country’s aproximately 6.2 million registered voters. About two-thirds of the Dominicans voting from abroad reside in the U.S.
Both candidates have urged voters to abstain from violence after two people were killed during campaign events, including a bystander in a shooting at a parade last month. Medina and Mejia signed a pact with the Catholic Church in March to mute combative campaign rhetoric.
While growth in the $57 billion economy slowed to 4.5 percent last year from 7.8 percent in 2010, the mining sector expanded 80 percent, according to the central bank.
Fernandez said further growth is expected in 2012 due to continued extraction of nickel at the Zug, Switzerland-based Xstrata Plc Falcondo mine and the beginning of gold production at the Pueblo Viejo mine by Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp.
Mejia has tried to capitalize on frustration with unemployment that, while having fallen from 18.4 percent since Fernandez took office, remains among the highest in Latin America at 14.6 percent.
He has vowed to create over 400,000 jobs in the nation of 10 million and invest 4 percent of gross domestic product in education.
“To resolve the problems of the people of the country, it is imperative that our government rests on two fundamental pillars: macroeconomic stability and a social policy that provides equal benefits to all Dominicans,” he said in a May 9 campaign address posted on his website.
Press officials from the Medina and Mejia campaigns didn’t respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking comment.
Whoever wins the election will have to rein in electricity subsidies that contributed to the deficit before interest of 0.4 percent of gross domestic product last year.
“It seems that people are still pretty divided over who to vote for,” said Heather Berkman of Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting group. “The numbers and the trends all seem to be in Medina’s favor, but it’s still too close to call. National polls aren’t always accurate, so I think Mejia still has a chance.”