Foto: Tatiana Fernández — AP Photo

The Dominican Republic dives into political chaos

Elections were supposed to happen smoothly without any problems with the new electronic system. After all, all of the political parties except one accepted and approved it. It was the second time that this system was to be used and only the ex-president Leonel Fernández had said that the electronic devices were susceptible to manipulation.

Fernández was right, and the elections were suspended after many machines presented problems loading the full ballots and candidates, all except the ones from the official party, the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD). At 11:11 a.m., the president of the Junta Central Electoral (electoral institution), Julio César Castaños Guzmán suspended the elections.

I was one of the many that went to vote but the table where we were supposed to do it wasn’t working. After an hour waiting, I decided to go home and on the way, my mother called to give me the news. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it due to the number of reports in different parts of the country where the same was happening.

The problem, however, is not only the suspension of the elections. It is what comes with it and why this happened. Many times the citizens expressed mistrust in the system. The first event where the electronic vote was used ended up with the division of the PLD. Leonel Fernández declared that an algorithm was used to alter the results and later on he announced his resignation from the party that he helped to construct and took over the structure of another party, Fuerza del Pueblo.

It was the start of the debacle that now we find ourselves in. The ambition of the actual President, Danilo Medina, who violated a pact made by him and Fernández in 2015 was the catalyst. They had agreed that this year Fernández was to be the candidate for the presidential elections. But Medina, seeing that the ex-president didn’t have the popularity and holding a grudge for the 2008 elections when Fernández opted to run himself and not support Medina, won his internal mental battle. He decided that Gonzalo Castillo -a man with no charisma and serious problems to articulate ideas-, was to be the candidate. This happened after an amendment to the Constitution didn’t go through due to a lack of votes in the Senate. Fernández had the final say with senators that supported him for the candidacy and so they avoided the amendment.

It is the ambition of these two men that created all the problems in the political ambiance we now have. The opposition party, Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), has been favored the past two years in public opinion. And these municipal elections were the start of that change in government. After all, the PLD holds all the power except in the Senate, now that Fernández left. But with the suspension of the elections, both the PRM and Fuerza del Pueblo are now in limbo while the government gains more time to manipulate the situation and find a new strategy to stay in power.

The electoral institution judges are selected by the government, so the cries of “fraud” or “sabotage” won’t be asserted with full impartiality. The PLD is already accusing the opposition, especially the candidate of the PRM, Luis Abinader, a businessman who is favorite among all the polls. This, of course, has no truth behind, nobody other than the people who support the government believes this. The JCE has been very soft sanctioning ministers or government officials after videos show them threatening employees to get laid off if they don’t vote for the PLD candidates. The organization also has the support of the military to secure all the buildings and equipment. If anyone entered those buildings and manipulated the machines it is only obvious who did it.

But now the country is in a political turmoil with many asking for the resignation of the JCE judges and the creation of a new impartial committee. The issue with this is that new mayors and other officials must be selected before April 24th, as the law states. And also, the presidential and congressional elections are just 20 days after that, on May 16th.

You could argue that all can be done in that short amount of time. But with the actual situation and guerrilla between PLD, PRM and Fuerza del Pueblo, it is very difficult to get consensus. What’s worse, this stagnation and chaos only benefit the government. But in the long run, it is only delaying the inevitable. And that is that the PLD will lose the majority of municipalities and the presidential battle.

We have yet to see how all of this is going to unfold. And how many lives will be lost on the way. Yesterday two people lost their lives and others were injured by gunshots. The population is angry and disappointed but there is little of what they can do against a government that often uses force and intimidation to quiet down people, journalists and protesters.