The content originally appeared on: Latin America News – Aljazeera

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader has won a second term in elections, clinching victory in the first round, according to preliminary results.

The hugely popular president vowed unity and impartial leadership as he declared victory after rivals conceded on Sunday night, having secured a sufficiently wide margin to win without needing to go to a second-round face-off.

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Abinader’s win appears to be an endorsement of his handling of the economy and tough policies towards migration from neighbouring Haiti.

With just over half of voting centres reporting late on Sunday, Abinader held 58.85 percent of the vote. His closest rival, three-time former President Leonel Fernandez, was sat on 27.29 percent, preliminary data from electoral authorities showed.

While final results were pending, Abinader, 56, had clearly won well over the 50 percent needed to rule out a run-off election. That prompted Fernandez, and another rival, Abel Martinez, to concede.

“Today our country shines with its own light,” Abinader told supporters at the headquarters of his Modern Revolutionary Party, pledging to serve as president for all citizens.

He called for a country “without distinction, without sectarianism and without party colours”.

The re-elected head of state also vowed to push through constitutional reform on the continuity of power that would not rely on the “personal whim” of the president in office. He pledged that he would not run again after completing his second term.

Presidents in the Dominican Republic are restricted to two terms of four years. However, previous reforms have extended presidential mandates.

While opposition parties reported a number of small irregularities, voting in the election largely ran smoothly.

Many of the eight million eligible voters are still troubled by an electoral authority decision to suspend the 2020 municipal elections due to a technical glitch, prompting what appears to be a high voter turnout.

Voters said they felt satisfied with the electoral process, according to Luis Fortuno, an international observer for the election and a former governor of Puerto Rico.

“In general the electoral process was carried out correctly, openly and democratically,” Fortuno said.

One of Latin America’s most popular presidents, Abinader had approval ratings at about 70 percent, a CID-Gallup poll showed in September.

The election outcome reinforced Abinader’s major policies, which include an anticorruption agenda and a crackdown along the shared border with Haiti and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the violence-stricken neighbour.

Abinader, a US-trained economist of Lebanese descent, was elected during the COVID pandemic in 2020 on promises of restoring trust in the government after several high-profile corruption scandals embroiling public officials in the top tourist destination.

Once in office, he began building a 164km (102-mile) concrete wall along the border with Haiti to keep out undocumented migrants. He had more than 250,000 migrants deported in 2023, despite international pressure for the country to welcome more refugees.

Voter Willy Soto, 21, was among the crowd outside Abinader’s campaign headquarters. He voiced approval for the migrant crackdown.

While saying he knows “the policies against [Haitians] are very strict”, he told The Associated Press news agency that the steps the president has taken are important in guaranteeing the security of Dominicans like him.

“This isn’t a problem that gets resolved one day to the next,” Soto said. “The policies he’s implemented, how he’s cracked down, closed the border and built a wall, I feel like it’s a good initiative to control the problem of Haitian migration.”

Another voter Javier Taveras, 38, told the AFP news agency that he “likes the current position of maintaining sovereignty,” though not “the abuse against our Haitian brothers”. As for the border wall, “I don’t know how effective it is,” he said.

While the migrant policy is popular among Dominicans, it has drawn sharp criticisms from human rights groups that call it racist and a violation of international law.



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