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article imageDominican President Medina sworn in for second term

By AFP     Aug 16, 2016 in Politics

The Dominican Republic's President Danilo Medina was sworn in Tuesday for his second term, after riding an economic boom to win re-election in a landslide despite deep and lingering poverty.

Dressed in a white suit with the red, white and blue presidential sash draped across his chest, Medina took the oath of office before the Caribbean tourist paradise's National Assembly.

His audience included Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, three of Latin America's most outspoken leftists.

Medina, a 64-year-old economist and head of the centrist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), won the country's May 15 election with 62 percent of the vote after pushing through a constitutional amendment to allow him to stand for a second four-year term.

On the eve of his second inauguration, his government boasted of its accomplishments over the past four years: investment in education, loans and support for small farmers, and a sharp drop in poverty, from 42.2 percent of the population to 32.3 percent.

The economy grew seven percent last year and is on track to grow six percent this year, according to the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The boom is thanks largely to tourism dollars from foreigners flocking to the country's luxury hotels and beaches.

But lingering poverty "will continue to threaten stability in the long term," warned the economist Pavel Isa Contreras.

More than three million of the island's 10 million people are still estimated to live in poverty.

Some political analysts warn that Medina, fresh off a crushing victory, is unlikely to make deep structural changes needed to secure long-term growth.

"He is not a reformist at heart," the Eurasia Group consultancy summed up after his win.

The PLD party has been in power for 12 years in the Spanish-speaking country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with its troubled neighbor, Haiti.

The president, who faced seven challengers, has profited from a divided opposition and the breakup of the once-powerful Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).

His top rival, Luis Abinader, came from a PRD breakaway faction.

In a country that endured the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961), US military interventions, and lifetime politicians such as three-time president Joaquin Balaguer, some voters worry about the PLD's iron grip on power.

Medina, however, can brush that off: he enjoys an 89 percent approval rating, according to a pre-election poll by Mexican consultancy Mitofsky, making him the most popular leader in Latin America.

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