Luis Abinader Re-elected With Large Majority In Dominican Republic.

VOA File photo. A billboard in the Dominican Republic promises better health insurance coverage for the most vulnerable.
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The Dominican Republic voted yesterday in a general election amid severe concern regarding how the country, which occupies the eastern end of the island of Hispaniola, should act concerning the severe refugee situation in neighboring Haiti, which shares the island.

Many Haitians already live, legally or illegally, in the Dominican Republic and there are many mixed Dominican and Haitian families, documented and undocumented.

Incumbent President Luis Abinader won re-election to a second term with a majority of the vote in the first round, eliminating the need for a runoff.

Trailing him were former President Leonel Fernandez and Mayor Abel Martinez.

Abinader’s win appears to be an endorsement of his handling of the economy and tough policies towards migration from neighbouring Haiti.

Abinader, a US-trained economist of Lebanese descent, was elected during the COVID pandemic in 2020 on promises of restoring trust in the government after several high-profile corruption scandals embroiling public officials in the top tourist destination.

Once in office, he began building a 164km (102-mile) concrete wall along the border with Haiti to keep out undocumented migrants. He had more than 250,000 migrants deported in 2023, despite international pressure for the country to welcome more refugees.

The Dominican Republic has long taken a hard line on Haitian migrants, but such policies have intensified since Haiti went into free fall following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Dominicans also voted in legislative elections. Voting centers closed at 5 p.m., with first results expected a few hours later, reported AP News.

While opposition parties reported a number of small irregularities, voting largely ran smoothly.

“Dominican democracy is strong and will come out stronger from this process,” Abinader told journalists Sunday.

Abinader’s anti-corruption agenda and push to grow the Dominican Republic’s economy has resonated with many of the 8 million voters in the Caribbean nation.

Much of his popularity, however, has been fueled by the government’s harsh crackdown on Haitians and the border the Dominican Republic shares with its crisis-stricken neighbor.

“This migratory problem worries me, because we’re seeing a massive migration from our neighbor and it feels like it’s out of control,” said Perla Concepcion, a 29-year-old secretary, adding that migration was her main concern as she takes to the polls.

The Dominican Republic has long taken a hard-line stance with Haitian migrants, but such policies have ramped up since Haiti entered a free fall following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

As gangs have terrorized Haitians, the Dominican government has built a Trump-like border wall along its 400-kilometer border. He has also repeatedly urged the United Nations to send an international force to Haiti, saying such action “cannot wait any longer.”

The arrival of Kenyan police and troop is expected any day now in Haiti. Meanwhile Kenya’s president is visiting the United States this week and expects to meet with President Biden on Thursday.

The government has also rejected calls to build refugee camps for those fleeing the violence and carried out mass deportations of 175,000 Haitians last year, according to government figures. While the policy is popular among voters, it has provoked sharp criticisms from human rights organizations who call it racist and a violation of international law.

“These collective expulsions are a clear violation of the Dominican Republic’s international obligations and put the lives and rights of these people at risk. Forced returns to Haiti must end,” Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International, wrote in an April report.

Sources: DW, Al Jazeera, AP, VOA.
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