Danilo Median set to win
Electoral workers count ballots after voting closed at a polling station during the presidential election in Santo Domingo 15 May 2016 REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Danilo Medina, incumbent president of the Dominican Republic, had a strong lead in early returns and is set to win the first round of elections by a comfortable margin, an early poll suggested. Voting had been extended by an hour because of technical problems at a few polling stations.

He had more than 60% of the vote from 14% ballots counted, which if sustained is enough to avoid a second round in June, according to an Al Jazeera report. His Democratic Liberation Party has been in power for 12 years and a booming economy worked in the party's favour.

The Caribbean country has seen its economy grow at 7% in 2014-2015, and one of the key factors of that growth is considered to be tourism, with foreigners thronging to the luxury beaches and resorts of the country.

Preliminary results showed Medina's rival and businessman Luis Abinader, who previously said that the government has been unable to tackle the high crime rate and corruption, had 35% of the votes.

Recently, electoral rules in the Caribbean nation were changed, which enabled the president to run for a second consecutive term. He has seen a spike in his popularity ratings in the latter part of his four-year presidency.

However, in the first year of his presidency, poverty rate in the Dominican Republic rose up to 41% according to the World Bank. In recent years, there has been an increase in health spending and new schools, which won him support and has seen a decline in poverty.

Speaking to the BBC, Pedro Silverio, economist at the Pontificate Catholic University Madre Maestra, said, "Compared with the rest of Latin America, the attempts to reduce poverty have been the least effective."

Under Medina's presidency, hundreds of thousands of people who had roots in the neighbouring Haiti have been deported or lost their Dominican nationality due to lack of documentation. This move was condemned by human rights organisations even as it was popular at home.