The Miami Herald
Jan. 16, 2004

Ex-Dominican Republic Leader Eyes Comeback

  Associated Press

  SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - With the economy in a slump, voters in the Dominican Republic appear ready to re-elect a former president who
  led the Caribbean nation during a time of relative prosperity.

  Polls in the last six months show a substantial lead for former President Leonel Fernandez over the incumbent, Hipolito Mejia, and other candidates in the
  May 16 election.

  Fernandez, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the polls reflect dissatisfaction with Mejia's populist economic policies.

  "The elections will be a plebiscite against President Hipolito Mejia," Fernandez said. "His government has been atrocious, and he has sunk his party."

  An October poll by Washington-based market research company Penn, Schoen & Berland found Fernandez, 50, would win in May with 58 percent of the
  vote, compared to 20 percent for Mejia or 22 percent for Vice President Milagros Ortiz Bosch, who also hopes to run on the governing Dominican
  Revolutionary Party ticket.

  Christian Reformist Party candidate Eduardo Estrella was last in the poll, which interviewed 1,200 people and had a 2.5 percent margin of error.

  Fernandez, of the Dominican Liberation Party, served a single term that ended in 2000. At the time, Dominican law barred presidents from serving a second

  Under Mejia, however, the law was changed to set the maximum number of terms at two, giving both Mejia and Fernandez a chance to serve again.

  Fernandez said Mejia's populist economic policies have been marked by overspending, driving the national debt to $7.6 billion from $3.7 billion at the end of
  his term. Inflation, meanwhile, has more than quadrupled to 42 percent.

  With a second term, the former president said he would reduce spending and stabilize the currency, and possibly further privatize the energy sector.

  Fernandez has campaigned on slogans such as "We were better off with Leonel," and "Leonel Returns," reminding Dominicans of the prosperity during his
  four-year term, when the economy grew at an annual rate of 8 percent and the dollar traded at 16 pesos, compared to the mid-40s today.

  A technocrat with a doctorate in law who is known for academic speeches, Fernandez presents a contrast with Mejia, a 62-year-old farmer with a degree in

  For Fernandez, a weakness may be that many see his party as part of the elite in a country marked by high rates of poverty and illiteracy.

  "Fernandez's platform isn't to change anything, but rather to say 'I did a good job in 1996,'" said political analyst Pedro Catrain of the Autonomous
  University of Santo Domingo.

  Mejia, for his part, faces competition from within his fellow party from four candidates, including the vice president. He defends his record, saying the global
  recession is largely to blame for the country's economic slump.

  To accommodate the other governing party hopefuls, Mejia and his government have sought to pass a law allowing parties to place up to five candidates
  on the ballot, with the winning candidate for each party receiving all of their party's votes.

  Political analysts say the scheme could erode support for Fernandez and make it more difficult for him to get the simple majority he needs for a first-round

  The proposal needs approval from two-thirds of Congress to pass. While the governing party has 29 of 32 Senate seats, it only has 72 of the 149 seats in
  the lower Chamber of Deputies.