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Dominicans in US Could Decide Presidential Election in the Dominican Republic

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The presidential election in the Dominican Republic will take place on May 20, 2012. The Dominican population living in the US makes up over 15 percent of the total population of the Dominican Republic. Current Dominican laws allow for Dominicans overseas to vote in presidential election, and for the first time, Dominicans abroad can also vote to elect congressional representation in the Dominican Congress. On June 7, 2011, President Fernandez signed a law that gives Dominicans abroad seven seats in the Dominican Congress, with the possibility of five of the seven congressional seats elected in the US, including Puerto Rico. The US 2010 Census ranked the Dominican population in the US, with over 1.4 million people, the fourth highest Latino group in the nation. New York, with over 800,000 Dominicans has most of the Dominican in the US. Other states with high Dominican concentration are: New Jersey, Florida, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

One of the presidential candidate, Danilo Medina, is putting some attention to this population outside the island, that through their money remittance, represent the third engine that drives the Dominican economy. Danilo Medina is the official presidential candidate of the ruling Party, PLD. The PLD has been in power for eight years with President Leonel Fernandez. Danilo Medina's last public job was as Secretary of the Presidency during Leonel Fernandez' first term, a job he left to seek the presidency of the country in 2006. Many in the Party believe that Medina is the successor to the founding Party leader Juan Bosch, a former president that co-founded the two largest political Parties in the Dominican Republic, including the opposition Party, the PRD. This disputed Party leadership role is also claimed by current president Leonel Fernandez, who defeated Medina in the Party's primary in 2007. Medina's current running mate for Vice President is Leonel Fernandez's wife, First Lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez, a choice welcomed by Party insiders, but one that many believe weakened Danilo's call for change.

Danilo Medina will face off rival PRD candidate Hipolito Mejia. Hipolito Mejia was president of the Dominican Republic from 2000 to 2004. Known for his controversial remarks, in his most recent trip to the US, Mejia told a group of supporters that they should all aspire to the US presidency because even an African "from over there" became president of the US. Under Mejia's presidency, the Dominican Republic suffered the worse banking meltdown in the history of the nation. His presidency was plagued with widespread corruption and nepotism. During his presidency, the Dominican economy also suffered one of its greatest economic setbacks, with hyperinflation and high unemployment rate. By the end of his term, only President Bush ranked lower amongst presidents in the Americas. But in spite of his unpopularity, Mejia managed to modify the Dominican Constitution during his presidency to allow him to seek a second term. Mejia was defeated by a wide margin in his reelection bid in 2004 by PLD candidate Leonel Fernandez.

Both Medina and Mejia spent the last week of Easter traveling through the eastern part of the US, attending fundraisers and large events, and letting Dominicans in the US know the importance they now play in the Dominican electorate process. With more than 220,000 registered Dominican voters in the US eligible to vote in the May 20th election, Dominicans in the US make up more voters than 27 of the 31 provinces in the country. The total number of Dominicans registered to vote overseas stands at 5 percent of the total voting population of 6.5 million.

Most polls put the PLD candidate, Danilo Medina a few points ahead of PRD candidate Hipolito Mejia, but recent data suggests that the election will be close and could go either way. So close is the race that the candidates' campaigns are courting Dominicans abroad, suggesting that Dominicans abroad could make the difference in electing the next president of the country. Many in the poor nation of 10 million want to see some change after eight years of the PLD, but also fear the days of instability of the Mejia administration. Medina's claim to the Dominican presidency, even with the weaker Mejia, appears to be a daunting task that this time may be decided by voters abroad, most of which are in the US.

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