Dominican President Danilo Medina finally brought an end to his prolonged silence on 22 July by indirectly confirmed that he would not seek to push through congress another constitutional reform in order to permit him to run for a third straight term in office in 2020.
President Medina delivered a 15-minute televised message from the national palace in Santo Domingo, as rumours gathered that senators loyal to him were poised to present the constitutional reform the very next day. Medina, without being entirely explicit, said that at the conclusion of his second term in office next year he wanted “to walk on the streets like any other citizen and look people in the eyes with the satisfaction of a job well done”.
Medina maintained that he had never shown “any intention of running for the presidency again”. But his refusal to clarify the matter one way or another by March this year as promised caused serious political ructions, not least within the PLD. He made no effort to curtail discussions of another constitutional reform to allow him to run for re-election for a second time held by the PLD congressional faction loyal to him. And, according to a statement released by the Dominican presidential press office, Medina also told the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, during his visit to the Dominican Republic on 11 July that he had still not made up his mind.
Medina accused “a minority sector in the PLD” (led by Fernández) of behaving in “a ruthless and disrespectful way”, staging marches to “discredit” him and his government. Medina added that the “campaign against my person and the government was unjustified and out of all proportion”.
Fernández’s political supporters had joined protesters outside congress in late June to try and erect a permanent tarpaulin outside the building opposing Medina’s re-election, and were roughly dispersed by police before the military was deployed outside congress to deter future protests. Fernández himself addressed thousands of protesters gathered outside congress in heavy rain on 17 July in the largest of a series of demonstrations against re-election. Fernández said he was honour-bound to respect the constitution. “I cannot be indifferent…insensible to the constitution being reformed every four years…with the sole purpose of allowing presidential re-election,” Fernández said. “I cannot support that.”
Fernández insisted that it was “values and principles” not his own electoral ambitions which led him to organise the protests. This is somewhat disingenuous. Fernández had opposed Medina’s re-election in 2016 but eventually agreed to back a constitutional reform to permit it on that occasion provided it impose the limit of one re-election. Fernández was able to overcome any scruples then because of the unofficial deal he had reached to ensure that Medina would step aside and allow him to run (for a fourth term it is worth noting) in 2020.
Medina made it emphatically clear that he will not be backing Fernández for president in the interests of party unity. In a clear swipe at Fernández, Medina made a pointed reference to the need for internal party regeneration during his televised address. Medina said that he hoped that by ruling out a reform to allow him to stand for re-election again it would “generate a propitious atmosphere to allow new leaders to emerge in our party...new faces, capable of renewing politics in the Dominican Republic”.
Although Medina might not care to admit it, this kind of internal renewal appears unlikely at such a late stage. He has not groomed a successor and the PLD is more likely to reconcile itself to Fernández as the safest pair of hands to extend the party’s political domination. The deadline for presidential pre-candidates to register before the national electoral council (JCE) is 22 August.
One thing that could conspire against Fernández, however, is that by leading such a vocal protest campaign against a reform to allow Medina’s second re-election, he has reawakened popular opposition to the PLD’s stranglehold on power. On 21 July an umbrella protest group dubbed Coalición Democrática, including the anti-corruption social organisation Marcha Verde, held a protest march in Santo Domingo.
- Marcha Verde
Marcha Verde orchestrated large-scale protests last year against the Medina administration’s handling of the corruption involving Dominican officials and the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which saw bribes totalling US$92m handed out to secure public works contracts between 2001 and 2014.
One of the organisers of the march, Homero Figueroa, read a manifesto in the Parque Independencia, saying that “re-election is a chronic illness that degenerates democracy”. Figueroa’s comment was aimed at the PLD continuing in power not just Medina’s re-election. The main opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM) supported this march. The PRM’s presidential pre-candidate, Luis Abinader, also organised a protest march on 12 July against a constitutional amendment to allow re-election.
- Economic repercussions
“The current internal [political] situation in the country is not significantly affecting the Dominican Republic’s trade and growth,” the director of the Centro de Exportación e Inversión de la República Dominicana (CEI-RD), Marius De León, said on 18 July. The Dominican Republic’s exports increased by 1.7% in the first half of 2019 to US$5.52bn, according to the CEI-RD’s figures. The main destination for Dominican exports was the US, which took US$2.5bn, 51% of the total, followed by Haiti (US$421m, or 8.6%); India (US$315m, 6.5%), and Canada (US$278m, 5.7%). The principal exports were raw gold for monetary purposes (US$647m) and pure cigars (US$387m). Income from tourism in the first quarter of the year stood at US$2.15bn, up by 4% on the same period in 2018, according to the central bank.