Voters in Dominican Republic brave virus to elect new president

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Voters in Dominican Republic brave virus to elect new president

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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SANTO DOMINGO,Dominican Republic (AFP)— Voters in the Dominican Republic braved a roaring coronavirus epidemic Sunday to cast their ballots for a new president and legislature of the Caribbean country.

Luis Abinader, the frontrunner in the presidential race, is seeking to end 16 years of unbroken rule by the centre-left Dominican Liberation Party, whose candidate Gonzalo Castillo was running second in a six-man field, according to pre-vote polls.

Looming over the elections was a rapidly spreading epidemic, with polls opening the day after the number of new cases soared by more than 1,000, a one-day record in a country that has had 36,184 confirmed cases and 786 deaths from the disease.

Outgoing President Danilo Medina, who cannot seek another term under the country's constitution, was forced to impose a national lockdown, easing it only last week as parties made a final drive.

Abinader, a 52-year-old businessman, had to suspend his campaign after testing positive for the coronavirus, but recovered sufficiently to lead a closing election rally on Wednesday.

The elections were supposed to have been held May 17, but were pushed back until Sunday, when election authorities said they would proceed "come what may."

"Respecting social distancing, exercise your right to vote today," the head of the central election board, Julio Cesar Castanos, said in announcing that polls were open.

An observer team from the Organization of American States (OAS) is monitoring the vote, but its leader, former Chilean president Eduardo Frei, was unable to be present because of travel restrictions.

Frei urged people to vote early to avoid crowds.

Some 7.5 million Dominicans are eligible to cast ballots in the election.

Also up for grabs are 32 senate seats, 190 seats in the lower house and 20 representatives to the Central American parliament.

"Change is coming and the PLD is going," Abinader, who is considered a centrist, promised a crowd of hundreds of his supporters at a closing rally Wednesday.

A Gallup poll gives Abinader more than 53 percent of voter intentions, 20 points ahead of the ruling PLD's Castillo. Another poll gives Abinader a slimmer 12-point margin.

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