Isle of Stability
Under the country's multi-party system, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the PLD dominate the scene. Danilo Medina's PLD has won all but one of the presidential elections held since 1996, when Hipólito Mejía of the PRD was elected President in 2000. The only other party to enjoy significant electoral support is the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC), which won 1.46% of the parliamentary vote in 2010. Medina's PLD holds 31 Senate seats and 105 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The Dominican Revolutionary Party holds one seat in the Senate and 75 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The PRSC holds three seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
Danilo Medina became the 54th President of the Dominican Republic in August 2012. Presidents are elected in popular elections for four-year terms and must wait at least one constitutional term before seeking re-election. Elections are held every four years on May 16. A presidential candidate must gain at least 51% to win the presidency in the first round. If no such majority is reached, a second round is held 45 days later between the two most popular candidates. The constitution grants the president authority over the appointment of public officials. The Supreme Court has sole jurisdiction over the president, in addition to certain members of cabinet and congress. The president also has the authority to declare certain powers in times of emergency.
THE CONSTITUTION & GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
The Dominican Republic derives its governmental structure from its first constitution, established in 1844 following independence from Haiti. Since then, the country has had 39 constitutions, a reality that is unreflective of the political stability enjoyed by the nation due to its tendency to redraft rather than amend. The constitution outlines the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Dominican parliament, also known as Congress, is divided into two separate houses: the Senate, which comprises the upper house and has 32 members, and the Chamber of Deputies, or the lower house, which has 183 members. There are no term limits for either chamber and members are elected by preferential vote. The Dominican Republic is divided into 31 provinces and one National District, which is where Congress is located. The provinces are divided into municipalities and are administered by local governments.
The constitution vests legislative powers in the Congress. The Chamber and Senate are equal partners in the legislative process; however, each chamber is granted specific powers through the constitution. The Chamber of Deputies has authority over revenue-raising bills and is granted the power to impeach. The Senate is granted power over treaties and presidential appointments, and is the venue for impeachment trials. Until 2010, presidential and congressional elections alternated every two years. The 2010 constitutional adjustment granted congress a one-off, six-year term. Beginning in 2016, presidential and congressional elections will be held concurrently. The Supreme Court heads the judicial system. Judges of the Supreme Court are elected by the Senate and cannot be removed. The Supreme Court is responsible for the appointment of judges to the lower courts.
The present constitution was last amended on January 26, 2010 and preserves a large part of earlier versions. A major change included the establishment of the Council of Judiciary. Its function is to decentralize administrative matters formally under the authority of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This was generally viewed as another step in a judicial reform process that began in 1997.
FOREIGN & TRADE RELATIONS
As the second largest economy in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic plays an important role in regional trade and development. The country represents the seventh largest market in the Western Hemisphere for US exports. The primary markets for Dominican goods are the US, Haiti, and Western Europe. The Dominican Republic has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since its foundation in 1995. It currently enjoys beneficial trade agreements with the US, Europe, and other Caribbean and Latin American countries.
Significant trade agreements include CAFTA-DR, a multilateral treaty between the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the two-way trade between the Dominican Republic and US was worth $11.5 billion in 2011, of which $4.2 billion was exported by the Dominican Republic to the US, a 14.1% increase on the previous year. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-DR-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), signed following negotiations between the EU and the ACP's subgroup CARIFORUM, established a free trade area. The EPAs are a key part of the Cotonou Agreement, a significant agreement between the ACP and the EU aiming to reduce poverty and integrate the ACP region into the global economy. The agreement will stay in effect until 2020. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told TBY the EPA “will help the Caribbean move up the value chain and rely less on traditional exports… by creating new trading opportunities in the goods and services sectors, such as business, finance, and tourism, including health-related and cultural services industries."
The Dominican Republic is also an observer of CARICOM, an organization of 15 Caribbean nations. Underpinned by a single market economy, CARICOM has been a platform for economic dialogue between the Dominican Republic and its neighbors in the Caribbean. With an increasing amount of Dominican companies looking outward for investment, the Dominican government is petitioning CARICOM for member status, though the Dominican Republic already enjoys many member state benefits through CARIFORUM and its EPA.
Since 2010, the Dominican Republic has looked to strengthen ties with Haiti, a policy President Medina looks set to continue. The country played an important role in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Three years on from the disaster, the Dominican Republic continues to assist its neighbor, having recently funded the construction of the University of Limonade at a cost of $50 million. After the US, Haiti is the Dominican Republic's second largest trading partner. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe told TBY his country had an excellent relationship with its neighbor. “We are very grateful for the relationship we have formed with the Dominican Republic, and we are going to continue to foster ties."
Through these initiatives, the Dominican Republic has become a face of confidence and optimism in the Western Hemisphere. In 2013 the Dominican Republic will continue to be an integral member of the Latin American and international community.