Could You Survive An Election In The Dominican Republic?

If you’re British, you’ve already had some training! British expat residents of the Dominican Republic, Ginnie Bedggood and Ilana Benady bemusedly watched from afar the UK General Election of May 6th 2010 and then compared it to the Dominican Republic’s Congressional and Municipal elections exactly ten days later. Have no fear, Brits, you are catching up fast!

Campaigning DR style - ruling party activists handing out government food packages to the voters

Ginnie was amazed at the seeming lack of organisation in some parts of the UK. “People lined up for three hours and still couldn’t vote? Things have changed since I left the UK. I thought that sort of thing only happened here” she said reading reports that in Hackney, Islington, Leeds, Lewisham, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield long queues led to many voters being turned away and unable to vote as the 10 pm deadline arrived. “This feels like politics DR style” said Ilana pointing to the 28 claims of major abuses with the postal voting system across 12 London Boroughs which the Metropolitan Police were examining.

One major difference between the two countries is the amount of information generally known about politics in the other country. Your average José on the streets of Puerto Plata knows all about the British MPs expenses scandal. José already knows his own politicos are corrupt but hearing about the UK expenses scandal, which was writ large in the DR media, gave him the chance to extend empathic solidarity (and a bit of superiority!) to British expats here. Your average Joe on the streets of Wigan might be hard-pressed to quote an example of political corruption in the DR.

But rest assured it exists. It is perhaps more colourful than in the UK, certainly noisier, arguably more deep-seated, occasionally more dramatic and without doubt more in-your-face. Ginnie and Ilana did not hear about any UK cases where voters sold their registration card; in the DR the selling of the ID card or cédula is a common practice. In the 2010 the DR voter registration authority, the Junta Central Electoral, made strenuous efforts to overcome this by allowing voters to apply for a replacement cédula up to 48 hours before the elections. In practice this just meant that José had two votes! Nor were there cases of political rivals shooting each other in the UK. In the DR, whilst not common, it does happen.

One of the things a new book by Ilana and Ginnie, Moving To and Living In the Dominican Republic, does not do is to walk you through the voting process in the DR. This is because legal expat residents do not have a vote unless they become citizens and the vast majority of expats do not become citizens. However, the book walks you through just about everything else, from how to find a doctor or school, to how to set up a company, how to buy property (s l o w l y!) and, if you needed it, how to use your leisure time.

An indispensable read for anyone wanting to move to the DR or indeed any developing country, it not only provides all the practicalities but it also sets this in a historical, geographical, cultural and linguistic context. And for the parts which will make you smile, the authors include anecdotes from their combined 30 year experience of life in the DR.

Would there ever be a ‘hung’ Congress in the DR? Unlikely. The results of the May 16th election were overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling PLD party. Would there ever be a coalition-style government in the DR? At present there are only two main political parties – “Jeeves, prepare my duelling pistols!”

Ginnie Bedggood   June 2010