Dominicans Oust Ruling Party Damaged by Kickback Scandals

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Voters in the Dominican Republic ousted the party that has dominated the country for two decades as Latin America continues to vote out incumbents.

Opposition leader Luis Abinader will be sworn in as president of the Caribbean’s largest economy next month after winning in the first round and avoiding a runoff.

Dominicans Oust Ruling Party Damaged by Kickback Scandals

With 83% of polling stations reporting, Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party had won 53% of the ballots, compared to 38% for ruling party candidate Gonzalo Castillo with the Dominican Liberation Party, according to the electoral authority. Castillo conceded and congratulated Abinader in a speech broadcast by local TV station CDN 37.

As Latin America’s economic outlook has worsened, incumbent parties have been voted out across the region over the last year, from Argentina to Uruguay to Suriname. In the Dominican Republic, a series of graft scandals also turned voters against the government.

Abinader, a 52-year-old economist, has pledged to stick with the business-friendly policies that helped make the Dominican Republic one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas until Covid-19 devastated its tourism sector. The country in on track for its deepest slump in three decades this year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

“We will recover jobs for everyone who wants to work and we will rescue trust in our democratic institutions,” Abinader told supporters after the vote.

The nation’s dollar bonds due 2060 fell 0.46 cent on Monday, to 88.70 cents on the dollar, sending the yield up to 6.74%.

International Financing

Abinader, a cement company executive and tourism developer, says he’ll seek international financing to stabilize the Dominican peso and maintain stimulus programs that have been rolled out since the pandemic hit. He’ll be sworn for a four-year term on Aug. 16.

Preliminary results also showed Abiander’s PRM with a commanding lead in congress. In the 32-seat Senate, the PRM was leading in 18 races. And the ruling PLD, which now controls 28 seats in the senate, was only leading in six races.

Former three-time PLD president Leonel Fernandez, who broke with the party last year, came in third, with 9% of the vote. The PLD ran the country for 20 of the last 24 years, first under Fernandez and now under President Danilo Medina.

Bribes

Max Puig, a former congressman and presidential candidate, traced the PLD’s downfall to 2016, when Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht admitted to paying $92 million in bribes to Dominican officials to win contracts. Despite the nation’s strong economy under the PLD, corruption scandals eroded their support, he said.

Abinader has pledged to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate graft.

“If that prosecutor doesn’t act against corruption, the incoming president is going to lose support,” Puig said, speaking by phone from Santo Domingo.

The Dominican Republic is the regional epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak and reported 1,241 new cases on Sunday, a single-day record for the nation of 11 million.

During the day, an opposition supporter was shot dead and two others were wounded near a voting center in the capital Santo Domingo following a dispute between rival party members, the electoral authority said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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