Diplomacy & Politics
By TBY | Dominican Republic | Aug 24, 2014
Under the country’s multi-party system, the incumbent PLD and the main opposition party, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), are the chief political entities in a country of 10.2 million, where at the 2012 elections 6.5 million citizens were eligible to vote. A symbol of stability that does much for the Dominican Republic’s international prestige, Danilo Medina’s PLD has won all but one of the presidential elections held since 1996, when PRD Hipólito Mejía was inaugurated President in 2000. In contrast, the PRD, rocked by internal friction, seems set to undergo a split, with Hipólito Mejía late in May of 2014 declaring his faction—the Majority PRD—to be the dominant one. He is reportedly poised to seek Central Electoral Board (JCE) recognition as a new stand-alone party, before nominating candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Of note, at the 2012 presidential elections, Mejía secured 47% of the votes in the 2012 contest, notably up from 40.5% in 2008. Meanwhile, President Medina cannot, under law, run for reelection in 2016, but only in 2020. The PLD’s comfortable majority in the senate has enabled it to fast-track legislation conducive to greater judicial independence and investment appeal.
Thanks mainly to regional trade deals including the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), the country has had much success, with the region now representing the third largest export market for the US in Latin America. It is also active in the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), a subgroup of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP), and a base for economic negotiations with the EU bloc.
THE CONSTITUTION & GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
The Dominican Republic’s governmental structure was determined by its first constitution, effective as of 1844 upon independence from Haiti. 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. No term limits apply to either chamber and members are elected by preferential vote. The Dominican Republic comprises 31 provinces and a National District, home to its Congress. The provinces, which are divided into municipalities, are administered by local governments. The constitution determines the legislative powers of Congress. The Chamber and Senate are of equal stature in the legislative process; yet, each holds specific powers as enshrined in the constitution. The Chamber of Deputies has authority over revenue-raising bills and is granted the power to impeach. The Senate has power over treaties, presidential appointments, and is the venue for impeachment trials. Until 2010, presidential and congressional elections have alternated every two years. As of 2016, presidential and congressional elections will be held concurrently. The 2010 constitutional adjustment granted congress a one-off, six-year term accordingly to enable this. The Supreme Court heads up the judicial system, and its judges are elected by the Senate and cannot be removed. The Supreme Court is mandated to appoint judges to the lower courts.
The constitution was last amended on January 26, 2010, when a key change saw the establishment of the Council of Judiciary. This continued vital judicial reform that gained momentum in 1997. Incidentally, in December of that year, Article 82 of Law No. 275-97 allowed Dominican citizens resident abroad to vote in presidential and vice-presidential elections. Yet citing the technical difficulties involved, the new right was first exercised in the 2004 presidential election. Of a total of 52,431 registered citizens resident abroad, 35,042 cast votes at 101 polling stations in 11 cities, where the average turnout was 66%.
FOREIGN & TRADE RELATIONS
As the second largest economy in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic plays an important role in regional trade and development, and was also a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The country represents the seventh largest market in the Western Hemisphere for US exports. Dominican goods are primarily destined for the US, Haiti, and Western Europe. The Dominican Republic has been a member of the WTO since its foundation in 1995. Today it is party to beneficial trade agreements with the US, Europe, and other Caribbean and Latin American countries. Since 2010, the Dominican Republic has been keen to bolster its ties with Haiti—its second largest trade partner behind the US. Since assisting Haiti in one of its darkest hours after the 2010 earthquake, the Dominican Republic has made other contributions, notably the $50 million construction funding of the University of Limonade. Moreover, in May 2014, President Danilo Medina submitted a bill to Congress that could ultimately result in naturalized citizenship for many people born in the Dominican Republic, but of Haitian descent. The draft legislation from President Danilo Medina’s office was initially expected to be submitted to lawmakers in February, but was delayed. It will first be taken up by the lower house, which is expected to create a committee to analyze the bill. It was not clear at the time of writing when a vote would take place. Indeed, the Dominican Republic has set itself a comprehensive roadmap for development in the form of the National Development Strategy 2030. Its four supporting pillars are institutional, social, economic, and environmental in nature. One area the government has prioritized is the diversification of the country’s electricity generation matrix to make supply shortfalls a thing of the past. It also seeks to boost education and widen the tax base. Juan Temístocles Montás, Minister of Economy, Planning, and Development told TBY in an interview that, “…we want to develop a social and democratic state, in which institutions act ethically, transparently, and efficiently, ensuring safety and promoting equality, peaceful coexistence, and national and local development.”
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