New scandal highlights threat to political pluralism
In a previous Monitor we reported on the closing of democratic space in the Dominican Republic. This issue was the subject of a recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, The
Dominican Republic: Becoming a One-Party State?, which argues that the predominance of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) – which controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches – is “fundamentally threatening the country’s democratic institutions.”
The PLD currently holds 31 out of 32 Senate seats in the legislature (although opposition candidates won more than 40 percent of the nationwide vote) and a 60 percent majority in the House of Representatives. As a result of recent reforms, the PLD also wields inordinate influence over the selection of judges and members of the Superior Electoral Tribunal. All of which, according to the report, has created a system “rigged in the PLD’s favor.”
The systematic effort to ensure political domination began under the ambitious former President Leonel Fernández of the PLD, still the party’s most powerful figure, and has benefitted current president and Fernández protégé Danilo Medina.
The report also examines the status of the opposition, specifically the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), which remains fractured after its President, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, allied with the PLD in pushing said reforms. Many in the PRD feel that Vargas has abandoned his role as the leader of the loyal opposition and has acquiesced in the steamrolling of democratic institutions. His critics allege that he has done so as a result of corrupt pact with Fernández that delivers Vargas political power and economic favors from the government.
Such accusations were given added credence this week when the Diario Libre newspaper published documents indicating that Vargas had received a sweetheart $15 million loan from from a government bank that was “approved in record time and in violation of the entity’s regulations.”
PRD representatives claim the loan was a reward to Vargas doing Fernández’s bidding from within the PRD before, during, and after the 2012 presidential elections. For example, during that campaign, Vargas declined to endorse his own party’s candidate, former president Hipólito Mejia, a political rival of his.
Vargas denies he is out to aid the PLD, but he continues to evade accountability for his actions by taking advantage of decrees by the electoral tribunal (controlled by Fernández) and manipulating party rules to postpone a party convention to thwart any attempts to remove him from party leadership. (Two recent polls showed Vargas to be unpopular among his own party members.)
Although the next presidential election in the Dominican Republic is not until 2016, the result of that election – and any other – will be a foregone conclusion unless the Dominican people can break the stranglehold on democratic institutions by the PLD and its leader, former president Fernández. Democracy supporters in the region need to be aware of the threats to rule of law, judicial authority, and political pluralism currently taking place in the Dominican Republic. Among its list of sound recommendations, the CSIS report calls for a review of the “Ley de Partidos” (Law of Political Parties) that are inhibiting the activities of a loyal opposition in the country. That would be a good place to start.