Dominican Electoral Worker (AP)

Electoral workers in the Dominican Republic. (AP)

Explainer: The Dominican Republic's 2024 Presidential and Congressional Elections

By Chase Harrison

Popular incumbent Luis Abinader is looking to win reelection and expand his party’s mandate on May 19.

It wasn’t until a 1994 constitutional reform that elections in the Dominican Republic featured the possibility of a runoff. Since then, only one presidential election has gone to a second round. It’s unlikely this year’s contest will add to the tally. 

Polls show President Luis Abinader is primed for a commanding victory in the May 19 first round: he captures over 60 percent support. It’s not surprising for a leader who has a 73-percent approval rating and ranks among the world’s most popular presidents. His party’s electoral prowess was on display in February’s municipal elections; the Modern Revolution Party (PRM), won 120 of the country’s 158 mayorships—albeit with 46 percent turnout

Dominicans will also pick all members of their Congress: 190 deputies and 32 senators. Turnout averages 61 percent in the country, though in the 2020 presidential election, which took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate was a record low of 55 percent. Dominicans living abroad can vote in this election and in 2020 they represented 8 percent of the electorate

Who is running against Abinader? And what are the major issues in the election? AS/COA explains. 

Major issues: Inflation, security, and Haitian relations

Two issues dominate the concerns of Dominicans going into the elections: inflation and crime. 

Inflation hit 4.8 percent in 2023, above the government’s 4.0 percent goal. Still, that’s an improvement from 2021 and 2022 when the inflation rate soared over 8.0 percent. In an effort to combat high inflation generated by pandemic spending and impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Central Bank has implemented monetary policies to stimulate the economy by providing credit to small- and medium-sized businesses. While the situation has improved over the past few years, inflation and the high cost of living still spell trouble for the 40 percent of Dominicans living in vulnerable economic conditions, per the World Bank.  Despite the country having one of the highest GDP growth levels in Latin America and the Caribbean, 56 percent of Dominicans rated the economy as bad or very bad in a March Gallup poll

Then there’s crime. The most recent survey of Enhogar, a study by the Dominican Republic’s national statistics agency published in December 2023, showed that 29 percent of the population lives in fear of crime in their neighborhood.  Perception of insecurity was especially acute among women. In response, the government has implemented a security strategy known as “My Safe Country,” which includes measures to train police; to increase financing for education, food, and transportation; and to boost citizen participation in neighborhood activities. 

Another issue in the election? Haiti. The neighboring country, which is also the Dominican Republic’s second-biggest trading partner, continues to endure a period of deep instability after the collapse of its government. That crisis has pushed thousands of Haitians to flee to the Dominican Republic, where they join a preexisting large population of migrants, many of whom work as low-skilled, undocumented labor. Abinader has maintained a policy whereby his administration provides humanitarian aid to its neighbor, but will not offer security or military aid. His government is also constructing a wall between the countries. All three major candidates for president propose to continue a hardline approach to Haitian migration.

The candidates

Nine candidates will be on the ballot for president, though only three poll in the double digits: Abinader, ex-President Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2012), and former Mayor of Santiago Abel Martínez (2016-2024).

Abinader is running for reelection with a motto of “the change continues.” The seemingly oxymoronic slogan harkens back to Abinader’s successful 2020 campaign pledging change. Then, the businessman won a commanding 52 percent of the vote with a platform centered around anti-corruption, judicial reform, and job creation. Abinader’s 2020 victory was the first for a politician not affiliated with the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) since 2000.

Luis Abinader
Luis Abinader

Since taking office in 2021, Abinader earned high marks for his oversight of national Covid-19 vaccination campaign, his management of the post-pandemic economy, and progress on strengthening anti-corruption institutions, including appointing a well-regarded attorney general.  The Dominican Republic has improved its score in AS/COA’s Capacity to Combat Corruption Index for three years straight.

In this campaign, Abinader has pledged to continue to work through his agenda, as well as consolidating government institutions; promoting more domestic generation of electricity; and promulgating greater government spending on areas like health, security, and road infrastructure. He’s also discussed reforming the Constitution, including changes to the Interior Ministry and making permanent the country’s ban on reelection beyond two terms. 

Leonel Fernández
Leonel Fernández

Polling around 20 percent is Leonel Fernández, who has appeared on the presidential ballot in five of the last eight Dominican elections. Fernández served his three presidential terms under the PLD but left the party in 2019 after accusations of fraud in the presidential primary. In this race, he is representing the People’s Force (FP). He has pledged to increase social spending and to spread the benefits of the Dominican Republic’s strong economic growth to all citizens. He’s critiqued Abinader for acting on behalf of the country’s wealthiest citizens and promised to battle corruption

Fernández retains some support from his terms as president and PLD members. His first term saw economic growth and infrastructure development. However, his latter two saw rockier economies and worsening crime. At 34 percent, Fernández has the largest portion of Dominicans who say they would never vote for him

Abel Martínez
Abel Martínez

Abel Martínez is the PLD candidate and he polls around 10 percent. Aside from governing Santiago de los Caballeros, the country’s second-largest city, Martínez served as a deputy in Congress and president of the body. His campaign has centered around a hardline security approach that would see more police patrolling; a new maximum-security prison; and investments in police equipment, surveillance, and more lighting in neighborhoods. Martínez will likely benefit from the robust party organization of the PLD. However, the party has been racked by corruption scandals in recent years. 

If a runoff occurs on June 30, the FP and the PLD say they will consolidate support if they face off against Abinader. 

The legislative competition

Dominicans will also vote for the entire Senate and Chamber of Deputies on May 19. Both houses currently feature narrow majorities for Abinader’s PRM and its allies, which hold 18 out of 32 Senate seats and 100 of 190 seats in the Chamber. The FP is the second-largest party in the Senate with 8 seats while the PLD is the second largest in the Chamber of Deputies with 62 seats. No party currently holds the two-thirds of votes needed to approve constitutional reforms

In Gallup polling, 46 percent of voters said they planned to cast a ballot for the PRM, 12 percent for the PLD, and 9 percent of the FP. About 25 percent were undecided.