SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominicans face a dizzying array of choices Sunday in one of the most complex ballots in recent history, with eight candidates for president, all 222 members of Congress up for re-election and thousands of people vying for local offices around the country.
For many voters it amounts to a referendum on whether to let President Danilo Medina's Democratic Liberation Party, or PLD, extend its political dominance after winning four of the last five presidential elections and controlling both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies for a decade.
Polls forecast that Medina, 64, will not only likely win the day but could take more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff against his nearest competitor, businessman Luis Abinader. That's due in part to the fact that the opposition is divided and weaker than during the last election, in 2012, which was much closer.
Medina also benefits from an economy that grew 7 percent last year, better than any other country in Latin America or the Caribbean, and increased funding for social programs that have strong popular support. Medina's government has built about 2,500 new schools, lengthened the school day to provide more classes and promoted literacy and vocational training for adults.
Abinader, 48, ran for vice president in 2012 but has never held elective office. On the campaign trail he has vowed to spend more on a system of social programs that provide payments to nearly 1 million poor families. He also says he would reduce crime, a principal concern in the country, and hike pay for police and the armed forces as well raise the national minimum wage.
Clad in the purple and gold colors of the PLD at a final campaign rally Friday, college student Raysa Montero said the president deserves credit for developing the country and expanding education.
"Danilo is the hope for the country," she said.
But others feel the ruling party, which passed a constitutional amendment letting Medina run for a second consecutive term, has been allowed to amass too much power.
"We're fed up. The PLD controls everything," said Rafael de Jesus, a mechanic and father of two who was planning to vote for Abinader. De Jesus also worried that the party has been able to pack the bench with friendly judges, saying: "They want everything."
If no candidate surpasses 50 percent, there will be a runoff June 26. Electoral authorities say nearly 7 million people are expected to vote including thousands in the United States, mostly in large Dominican enclaves in New York and Florida.