May 16, 2016 / 4:47 AM / 2 years ago

Dominican Republic's Medina cruising to second term: partial results

SANTO DOMINGO, May 15 (Reuters) - Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina appeared to have easily won re-election, with partial results late on Sunday showing his record of a surging economy and social projects swayed voters in the Caribbean nation despite graft accusations.

Results counted by hand from 18 percent of polling stations showed Medina’s coalition won 62 percent of the vote, a margin that if sustained would be enough to avoid a runoff election.

His closest rival, businessman Luis Abinader, had 35 percent in the early results, a sign Dominicans were unwilling to ditch Medina for untested promises of more social spending and lower crime.

The remaining six candidates combined had about 3 percent of votes, including the first two women running for the presidency in a Dominican election.

A noisy motorcade of Medina’s supporters drove through the capital on Sunday night, blaring reggaeton music in celebration of his apparent win. Medina did not declare victory and his rival did not concede.

The election was marred by a shootout at a voting center, long lines and grumbles by the opposition over the method of counting and releasing results.

Final results were not expected until Monday, with the paper ballots laboriously counted by hand.

A left-of-center economist, Medina has had high popularity ratings during much of his four-year term in the country of 10.4 million. Electoral rules were changed to allow him to run for a second consecutive term.

“I won’t be satisfied until progress reaches everyone, when growth means a table full of food for everyone,” Medina, 64, said at a rally to close his campaign on Thursday.

Medina’s Dominican Liberation Party has been continuously in power since 2004.

Abinader’s campaign called for change and focused on allegations of corruption over a power plant awarded to Brazilian engineering conglomerate Grupo Odebrecht.

Medina’s campaign chief, João Santana, returned to Brazil in February to face charges Odebrecht paid him funds siphoned from Brazil’s state oil company, Petrobras, to finance the 2014 poll campaign of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Medina has not referred to the Petrobras scandal, but did admit the Brazilian strategist was his top adviser. Santana has called the allegations “baseless.”

The Dominican Republic was the fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2014 and 2015, and has about eight times the GDP of Haiti, its poor neighbor on the island of Hispaniola.

Medina has overseen the repatriation of thousands of people with roots in Haiti. The policy is popular at home but condemned by human rights groups.

Despite the strong economy, poverty rates rose to 41 percent in the first year of Medina’s term, the World Bank says. (Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

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