May 16, 2024 - World

Haiti conflict is among key issues in Dominican Republic elections

Dominican President Luis Abinader delivers a speech while standing behind a white podium in Santo Domingo, on September 2, 2023.

Dominican President Luis Abinader delivers a speech on Sept. 2, 2023, during his first campaign event for his re-election bid. Photo: Felix Leon/AFP via Getty Images

Migration and the future of Haiti are among the key issues in the lead-up to Sunday's presidential and congressional elections in the Dominican Republic.

Why it matters: The Dominican Republic's restrictive immigration policies have regional implications as many Haitians try to flee violence.

  • The top three candidates running for president agree on restricting the flow of Haitians through Dominican territory.

State of play: President Luis Abinader is likely to be re-elected and avoid a possible runoff, as he's the overwhelming favorite in the polls, followed by Leonel Fernández, a former president, and Abel Martínez, a former mayor.

  • Abinader's government has been building a wall on the border with Haiti, has increased deportations and last fall suspended giving visas to Haitians.
  • The measures are popular among Dominicans, but international organizations have criticized them as possible human rights violations.
  • More than 8 million Dominicans —about 10% of them living abroad— are registered to vote, according to the electoral board. Turnout in the past has averaged 70%.

What they're saying: The Dominican Republic "has been a strong democratic society for many, many years and, to the extent that continues to be the case, it's a contrast with other jurisdictions like Venezuela, an hour flight away, or Nicaragua, also very close by," says Luis Fortuño, former governor of Puerto Rico.

  • Fortuño will be one of the international observers of the Dominican election.

What we're watching: Abinader promised before his first term to loosen the severe restrictions on abortion in the country. Activists are hoping he'll keep to his word if he gets a second term, though he hasn't broached the issue.

  • So far this year, at least two people, Adlika Féliz and 13-year-old Cristal Peguero, have died after being denied safe abortions, according to their families and abortion rights defenders.

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