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Dominican Republic - Elections - 1990s

The 1990 elections were marred by irregularities and charges of fraud, as the 83-year-old incumbent Balaguer edged out his 80-year-old opponent, Juan Bosch, by a mere 24,470 votes. With the PRD still recovering from its factional strife, Jose Francisco Peha Gomez came in a surprisingly strong third place.

The 1994 elections were even more crisis-ridden than those of 1990 because of an extremely tense and bitter campaign between Balaguer and Peria Gomez. When thousands of voters were prevented from voting because their names did not appear on electoral rolls, domestic protest and international pressure led to a drawn-out crisis.

Election - 1996 - Presidential

Between 1994 and 1996, the political efforts of opposition parties, Dominican civil society (including substantial elements of the business community), and the international community (the United States in particular) focused on how to secure the holding of fair elections in 1996 and how to block any effort by Balaguer to extend his term in office, either unconstitutionally or by modifying the constitution. The crisis was finally resolved when Balaguer agreed to reduce his term to two years and accept a number of constitutional reforms, including a prohibition on immediate presidential reelection. As a consequence, the 88-year-old Balaguer finally left the presidency in 1996, handing power over to the PLD's Leonel Fernandez Reyna, whom Balaguer had tacitly supported and then openly endorsed (age and illness had led to Bosch's retirement in 1994).

The 1996 elections proceeded according to strict guidelines. In 1996, unlike the previous two elections, presidential reelection was not an issue, and the Central Electoral Board was staffed by professional nonpartisans. Furthermore, in addition to the oversight provided by several high-profile missions of international observers, civil society mobilized far more extensively in support of free and fair elections than it had done in the past.

The 1996 elections were held under new rules requiring a second-round election if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. With a renewed PRD under his tight leadership, Peha Gomez performed well. However, he only gained 45.9 percent of the vote. He was followed by Leonel Fernandez of the PLD with 38.9 percent, and Jacinto Peynado of the Reformist Social Christian Party (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano—PRSC) with 15 percent. Balaguer did not endorse his party's candidate (indeed, he did not even vote in the first round) , instead providing his implicit support to Fernandez during the first round. For the second round, Balaguer and the PRSC officially endorsed the candidacy of Leonel Fernandez in a "Patriotic Pact" calling for the preservation of national sovereignty and Dominicanness, against the candidacy of Peha Gomez. Fernandez defeated Peha Gomez in the second round.

Election - 1998 - Legislative

The opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), after free and fair congressional elections in May, 1998, dominated the Senate and had the largest presence in the lower house. Congress provides an open forum for the free exchange of views and debate. The main opposition party -- the PRD -- held 18 of 30 seats in the upper house and 57 of 149 seats in the lower house. A third major party, the Social Christian Reform Party (PRSC) of former President Balaguer, contested all elections; various smaller parties were certified to contest provincial and national elections.

The Government's human rights record continued to be characterized by serious problems. Police committed over twice as many extrajudicial killings in 1999 as in 1998. The police beat suspects and regularly used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. Some security force personnel tortured prisoners. Prison conditions in general are extremely harsh. Police arbitrarily arrested, detained, and abused suspects and suspects' relatives. Lengthy pretrial detention and long delays in trials remained problems. Security forces committed break-ins of private quarters without cause to search for suspects, and regularly refused to obey judicial orders. The police were responsible for most of the human rights abuses committed by the security forces and in many cases commit such abuses with impunity.

Fernandez obtained the presidency, but his party had a very small representation in Congress as a result of its poor performance in the 1994 elections. The new electoral calendar established by the 1994 reform meant that congressional elections would now be held at the midpoint of the presidential term. And, soon after Fernandez's electoral victory, the PRSC negotiated a pact with the PRD to secure leadership positions in Congress.

Without congressional support, the Fernandez administration faced serious difficulties in obtaining the passage of a number of desired reforms, although some progress was made on a number of important fronts. The legislative attempt to reform the economy in late 1996 failed when Congress refused to agree on a set of policy proposals to liberalize the economy, including lower tariffs and a higher value-added tax. Congressional deadlock prevented an agreement over the national budget for 1997, which led President Fernandez to withdraw the budget bill from Congress and use the 1996 budget agreement to apply in 1997, as stipulated by the constitution when no agreement is reached between the executive and the legislative branches over revenues and expenditures.

Yet, Fernandez governed in a more democratic and institutional fashion than Balaguer, without renouncing the use of patronage or clientelist mechanisms. Some important legislative measures also have been approved to which he can point. Furthermore, the country was able to maintain high rates of economic growth with moderate inflation, and the state has modestly expanded its investments in education, health, and housing.

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