SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominican President-elect Danilo Medina thanked his supporters Monday for a first-round win in an election that left many in the main opposition party bitterly claiming fraud and his main opponent refusing to concede.
Medina shrugged off any doubts about his win with 51 percent of the vote, making a statesman-like speech to cheering members of his Dominican Liberation Party in which he congratulated his supporters and opponents alike. "I think we have won the right to celebrate," he said.
The 60-year-old economist and long-time politician and party official said he was eager to begin working on an agenda that included improving education and reducing the power blackouts that have long plagued the Caribbean nation.
"I was not waging a political campaign, but building a dream," Medina told the cheering crowd. "And now we have the opportunity to build that dream, working for a Dominican Republic that is fair to all, with more social harmony, a country with opportunities for all."
His chief rival, former President Hipolito Mejia, stayed in private meetings all Monday with officials of his Dominican Revolutionary Party, and did not concede the election. A spokesman, Andres Matos, said the candidate would not make any statement until after he finished analyzing final results.
Officials of the Dominican Revolutionary Party have said that the official results, in which Mejia received nearly 47 percent of the vote, did not match their own tracking of the ballots. They accused the ruling PLD of using government resources to campaign and to buy votes.
Luis Abinader, the vice presidential candidate for the PRD, said the party would present a report detailing irregularities.
"We are going to defend democracy," Abinader said. "We are going to show the country what really has happened today," he said.
The balloting appeared orderly in general but there were widespread reports that backers of both parties were offering people payments of about $15 to vote for their candidate or to turn over their voting cards and withhold their vote. Campaign officials denied the allegations.
Observers from the Organization of American States confirmed incidents of vote-buying but not enough to taint the overall results of what was otherwise a successful election, said the head of the mission, Tabare Vazquez, a former president of Uruguay.
The candidates were vying to succeed President Leonel Fernandez, who won praise for a relatively stable eight years in office in which he spent $2.6 billion on such major infrastructure projects as a subway system, hospitals and roads to modernize a country that is the top tourist destination in the Caribbean but remains largely poor. Fernandez was barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term.
Many voters conceded that Medina, a stalwart of the Dominican Liberation Party, wasn't a particularly exciting candidate, but said they were eager for stability in a country with a history of economic and political turmoil.
The Dominican Republic has also become an important route for drug smugglers seeking to reach the U.S. through nearby Puerto Rico and there are widespread concerns about the influence of drug trafficking. The candidates also traded accusations of incompetence and corruption.
Six candidates were running for president, but Medina's only real opponent was Mejia, who lost his bid for a second presidential term in 2004 because of a deep economic crisis sparked by the collapse of three banks.
Mejia and his Dominican Revolutionary Party have a devoted following. Supporters of the 71-year-old garrulous populist sought to portray some of the public works spending as wasteful and benefiting backers of the president, and insisted he wasn't to blame for the 2004 economic crisis.
Demetrio Espinosa, a 60-year-old jobless resident of the capital's Colonial district, said Mejia understands the needs of poor people like him. He said most people can't afford to be treated in the new hospitals nor do they need a subway if they don't have a job.
"They made a lot of their friends into millionaires and spent the public's money," Espinosa said of the governing party.
Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez contributed to this report.