Dominican Republic president leads with final returns due

Dominican President Danilo Medina appeared to be heading toward a second straight term Monday as preliminary returns showed him with a strong enough lead to avoid a runoff with his closest rival.

The Central Electoral Commission reported that the incumbent led with about 62 percent of the vote. His nearest opponent, businessman Luis Abinader, had 35 percent. The numbers were based on an electronic tabulation from 22 percent of polling stations.

Final results, confirmed by a manual count, were expected later Monday.

Participation in Sunday's election topped 60 percent, with voters in the country and at expatriate polling sites in the U.S. and around the world choosing all 222 seats in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies as well as local offices.

Polls going into the election had pointed to Medina as the likely presidential winner. His Dominican Labor Party won four of the previous five presidential elections and has controlled Congress for a decade.

Opposition candidates criticized electoral authorities for starting to release preliminary results as some people still waited to cast ballots after voting was extended for an hour because of problems that delayed the process at many polling stations.

Many people had to wait hours to vote, largely because of problems with the deployment of new technology to identify voters by their fingerprints in this country of more than 10 million people.

Roberto Rosario, chief of the electoral board, blamed delays on the mass resignations of 3,000 technical assistants and other poll workers a day before the election. Replacements had to be trained swiftly. He did not disclose why the workers walked off the job before the vote.

The incumbent benefited from a weak and divided opposition and an economy that grew 7 percent last year, better than any other country in Latin America or the Caribbean. He also has drawn support for 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.