Bloodshed mars Dominican elections


Election day violence claimed the life of an opposition supporter Sunday and left three others wounded as voters in the Dominican Republic chose senators, delegates and mayors.

By the time polls closed at 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) there had been several reports of violent incidents across this mountainous Caribbean country of 10 million people, just east of Haiti on Hispaniola island.

A militant from the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) was killed by gunfire Sunday in a fight between government supporters and opponents, local media reported.

Three other people were wounded in the incident, which occurred in San Cristobal west of the capital, Santo Domingo.

There were also other violent clashes between supporters of opposing political parties, according to the Central Electoral Board, whose president Julio Cesar Castanos made a public appeal for “peace, tranquility and calm” during the voting.

President Leonel Fernandez, who was favored to keep his party’s majority in Congress, decried the violence, which he said nevertheless would not affect the outcome.

“We greatly regret the acts of violence,” he said.

“The information that I have is that the (election) process was carried out in a normal way. We saw just isolated acts of violence,” the Dominican leader said shortly before polls closed.

A mission of the Organization of American States, in country to monitor the election, said it had received complaints of fake or purchased identity documents as well as incidents of violence in various parts of the country.

Delegates from the two main parties, Fernandez’s Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and the opposition PRD, also made appeals for calm.

“What ensured our victory in past elections was the order and the respect shown for individual rights, and that should be maintained,” said PLD delegate Cesar Pina Toribio.

An estimated six million eligible voters are electing candidates to fill all 32 seats in the Senate and all 178 in the House of Deputies, as well as 155 positions such as mayors in local municipalities.

Seats for 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament were also up for grabs.

Polls opened at 6:00 am (1000 GMT), and several precincts reported voters lining up well ahead of the doors opening.

Fernandez, who actively campaigned for his PLD colleagues, is hoping to keep his substantial majority in Congress, which would smooth the way for the final two years of his latest term.

Terms of senators, delegates and mayors are for four years, according to the new Constitution which came into force early this year. But by special mandate those elected Sunday will serve six-year terms in order to unify national, legislative and local elections in 2016.

The PLD currently holds 75 percent of Senate seats and 54 percent in the House of Deputies.

Fernandez was first elected in 1996, then in 2004 and 2008, and experts say he intends to run again in 2012.

The new Constitution allows for indefinite re-election, but without consecutive terms.

Fernandez reached a deal with political opponents last year that would allow him to run for president in 2012.

But analysts say he is eyeing a strong showing Sunday by his PLD party to prevent a possible move by opponents to get the rule on non-consecutive terms applied retroactively.

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