Dominican Republic's Abinader sails to second term, pledges unity

  • World
  • Sunday, 19 May 2024

People wait outside a school used as a polling station, to cast their votes, on the day of the presidential election in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic May 19, 2024. REUTERS/Henry Romero

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) -The Dominican Republic's hugely popular President Luis Abinader vowed unity and leadership without distinction as he soared to victory in elections on Sunday, gaining a sufficiently wide margin to secure another term without a second-round vote.

With about 44% of voting centers reporting, Abinader held 59.09% of the vote, followed by three-time former President Leonel Fernandez with 26.94%, preliminary data from electoral authorities showed.

While final results were pending Sunday night, Abinader, 56, won well over the 50% needed to rule out a run-off election.

Rival candidates Fernandez and Abel Martinez both said on X that they had called Abinader to recognize his election victory.

"Today our country shines with its own light," Abinader told jubilant supporters at the national headquarters of his Modern Revolutionary Party, pledging to serve as president for all citizens.

He called for a country "without distinction, without sectarianism and without party colors."

Voters went to the polls as the Caribbean island nation grapples with fallout from a humanitarian crisis next door in Haiti, graft in government and inflation and inequality in the region's top tourist destination.

Abinader, a former businessman, has staked his claim on his adept handling of the COVID-19 crisis. His hardline stance on Haiti and a crusade against corruption helped gain more support than his two main opponents.

Voters said they felt satisfied with Sunday's electoral process, according to Luis Fortuno, an international observer for the election and a former governor of Puerto Rico.

"In general the electoral process was carried out correctly, openly and democratically," Fortuno said.

One of Latin America's most popular presidents, Abinader had approval ratings around 70%, a CID-Gallup poll showed in September.

He catapulted the island's all-important tourism industry to recovery in record-breaking time, returning the country to a predicted 5% growth in GDP in 2024, World Bank figures show.

But challenges remain. Crime, cited in travel warnings by the U.S. State Department, ranks in polls as a major issue for citizens of the Dominican Republic.

Many worry that migrants thronging in from neighboring Haiti could further aggravate security risks.

And while the economy has soared, Abinader's critics say he has work to do in taming inflation and inequality that have left behind many citizens.

(Reporting by Jesus Frias in Santo Domingo, Dave Sherwood in Havana and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Clarence Fernandez)

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