On 20 May the Dominican Republic will vote for a new president, a process which happens every four years. Even though the elections are every four years, many presidents seem to have managed to last a long time. Rafael Trujillo was a particularly nasty chap who murdered anyone who he didn’t like, and he lasted 22 years as president before being assassinated. Balaguer was another president who had the job for nearly 30 years, helped by groups of thugs and supposed massive election fraud. In 1996 he was replaced by the current president, Leonel Fernandez. Fernandez was president for only four years, as that was the new rule, but having had four years out of power, he came back again and changed the constitution so that he could have two terms in office. Now he has to take another break but obviously he does not want to be totally out of the loop so his wife is running as Vice President.Election fever has been growing over the past few months and will reach a crescendo a few days before hand. Whilst I am used to voting based on manifestos and what the different governments and leaders say what they will do for the country, here the two main parties do not appear to have any great differences. The party in power at the moment is the Dominican Liberation Party which uses the colour purple, and their candidate is Danilo Medina. The other party is the white party, the Dominican Revolutionary Party and their candidate, Hipolito Mejia, was President before, the last time Leonel took a rest. The polls show they are very close so no one knows yet what will happen.
The campaigning takes the form of what are known as caravanas, a long line of cars and motorbikes driving through the streets, all blaring out party songs, carrying party flags, and with the important people sitting on top of their cars with their legs dangling down through the sun roof and waving to people. In addition there are marches through the streets of the towns and villages by the supporters of each party, either all dressed in white or all dressed in purple. Big flat bed trucks filled with enormous speakers spend all day driving around playing songs and slogans from the different parties. They seem to be starting earlier and earlier – I was woken at 6 this morning by one yelling “Llego Papa!” meaning “Here comes Daddy!” the slogan for Hipolito, whose nickname is Papa.
If the purple party loses power, thousands of people will lose their jobs. The Dominican Republic has no civil service. No well qualified people working in government run organizations irrespective of which party is in power. All of those who have government jobs support the party in power. If the purple party loses the election then they will lose their jobs and be replaced by people from the white party. This will mean a change of personnel in customs, airports, ports, immigration, education, social security, social services, water company, electricity company – the list is endless. They will simply be replaced.
Ability to do the job is secondary to the party you belong to.
On Sunday May 20 all Dominicans will travel to the place they were living when they were 18 and they received their first national identity card, known as a cedula. The buses will be full, the roads will be crowded. Sales of alcohol are banned from the Saturday night through to the Monday morning to try and cut down on potential violence and to ensure people are sober enough to vote. Emotions will be running high as those supporting the white party are desperate for them to win so that they can get a job. Those belonging to the purple party are terrified they will lose as they will lose their jobs.
Hopefully the whole process will happen fairly and peacefully, no fraud and no violence. We will see.
Lindsay de Feliz lives in the middle of nowhere in the Dominican Republic with her Dominican husband, one stepson, 8 cats and 3 dogs. She was formerly Marketing Director of various financial companies in the City of London, and left the UK around 11 years ago to travel the world as a scuba diving instructor. She eventually came to the Dominican Republic on a 6 month contract, fell in love with the country and its people and stayed. Lindsay has a blog www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com and is currently writing a book about her experiences over the last 10 years.