Dominican Republic
Flag of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic will go to the polls on May 19th in what is expected to be a tight race between the incumbent Luis Abinader and the former three-term President, Leonel Fernández.

Campaigning is underway across the Caribbean nation of eleven million which shares the island of Hispaniola with crisis-torn Haiti and is a close regional ally of the United States.

The migration of Haitian refugees to the Dominican Republic and domestic criticism of Abinader's approach to border security have become highly salient. High inflation and large government debts are also firmly on the electorate's agenda.

Having enjoyed a period of democratic stability since 1996, Dominican civil society is undergoing a period of turmoil.

Last week, representatives of Fernández's party Fuerza del Pueblo (FP) and other opposition groups travelled to the offices of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington D.C. to report electoral manipulation and fraud on the part of Abinader and his party, PRM.

The opposition alliance and associated civil society actors allege that Team Abinader is using its financial strength to lure opposition candidates away from their respective parties to stand for PRM. There are also doubts over the integrity of the Dominican Municipal elections held in May.

In the economic sphere, the Republic is facing strong headwinds that have undermined domestic living standards.

According to the IMF, prices have risen by as much as 25% since Abinader took office in 2020, hurting the poorest most due to the high proportion of income that they spend on food and fuel.

The Dominican Republic's debts also stand at close to 60% of its GDP, causing the government to spend as much as 19% of its revenue on repayments. This has hurt public services, from education to healthcare, stoking public dissatisfaction at real terms cuts.

In response, Leonel Fernández is campaigning on a platform to return the economy to the good health it enjoyed during his twelve non-consecutive years in power (1996-2000, 2004-2012).

Foreign direct investment, the basis of the Dominican economy, increased by 157% between 2005 and 2008. By 2010, the Dominican Republic was enjoying economic growth of 5% per year with inflation low and the peso strengthening against the dollar.

Fernández also won international plaudits for his coordination with then President Barack Obama to respond to the humanitarian crisis precipitated by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

As the polls narrow between Abinader and Fernández, the presidential debate scheduled for April 24th is seen by domestic commentators as a pivotal moment in the campaign.

Abinader will be promising that better days lie ahead if he is granted another four years in office, while Fernández will be pitching his track record and international leadership and status as the antidote to the Dominican Republic's current malaise.

The more than two million Dominicans and American Dominicans living in the United States have the opportunity to cast their vote. Polls show that the US diaspora is thus far breaking decisively for Fernández.

The election on May 19th will undoubtedly have their attention and that of United States policymakers, who maintain a strong strategic interest in the stability of the Dominican Republic.