Dominican President Luis Abinader. (AP)


LatAm in Focus: How the Dominican Republic Breaks Latin America's Election Mold

By Carin Zissis

With Luis Abinader’s likely reelection on May 19, Temple University’s Rosario Espinal explains why the Dominican Republic bucks regional political trends.

The Dominican Republic’s Luis Abinader is one of the most popular leaders in Latin America, if not the world. A former business mogul, the president and his government have won accolades for battling corruption, overseeing solid economic growth, and adeptly managing the Covid-19 vaccination campaign. So it may come as little surprise that Abinader appears to be on comfortable footing to win in the first round of the country’s presidential vote on May 19.

But then again, he governs a country that differs from much of the rest of Latin America in that its presidents tend to be popular. The Dominican Republic hasn’t had a single presidential runoff vote during this century, and polarization levels run low. Moreover, economic stability over the past 20 years has gone hand-in-hand with both political stability and strong political parties.

“Unlike other countries in the region, the Dominican Republic has kept the party system,” explained Dr. Rosario Espinal, a Temple University professor emeritus. “It has changed somewhat due to divisions and fragmentations of the main parties, but the party system has not collapsed as it has happened in other countries in the region.”

rosario espinal

But the sociologist and long-time political analyst also told AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis that weak party competition is a feature of Dominican politics and the country’s clientelist political system, in which “whoever is in power is going to deliver goodies.” Abinader’s Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) has widened its political control at the cost of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD)—the party that previously held the presidency for 16 years. The PRM’s gains, in turn, could lead to higher abstention, given that the divided opposition’s supporters “don’t have a strong incentive to vote.”

Abinader victory did mark an anti-incumbent shift in 2020, when the PLD lost amid voter concerns over the party’s corruption. Now, Abinader’s campaign slogan is “El cambio sigue,” or “The change continues.” And Espinal says that even though inflation ranks as a top voting concern, middle-class PRM supporters have “decided to give the benefit of whatever doubt to the government.”

What issue has changed in this electoral round? Espinal spotlights the political crisis in neighboring Haiti, but she notes that the PRM has won support for a tough-on-migration approach that calls on the international community—rather than the Dominican Republic—to address the matter. On that topic, she identifies a conflict, saying: “There is a contradiction in terms between these nationalistic postures and this economic reality of the demand in agriculture and construction for cheap labor force that only is provided by Haitians.”

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This episode was produced by Jon Orbach. Maria Despradel contributed to reporting. Carin Zissis is the host.

This is the fourth episode in our 2024 election series. Prior episodes covered the economic agenda for Panama’s next president, the youth vote in Mexico, and Nayib Bukele’s global reach. Get this content and more electoral insight in this year guide at www.as-coa.org/2024.

We will host President Abinader at the 54th Washington Conference on the Americas on May 8, 2024. Learn about the event.

Read an Americas Quarterly profile of the president. 

The music in this podcast is "Pacholí” performed by Pedro Martínez for Americas Society. Find out about upcoming concerts at: musicoftheamericas.org

Send us feedback at latamfocus@as-coa.org.

Opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Society/Council of the Americas or its members.