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Dominicans vote in presidential polls

Voters in the Dominican Republic are going to the polls to elect the country's president. Incumbent leader Danilo Medina is favored to carry the day.

Electoral authorities in the Dominican Republic expect nearly 7 million people to vote in Sunday's election, where they will have to choose between eight presidential candidates, as well as electing Congress members and thousands of people for local offices around the country.

Polls have shown President Danilo Medina, 64, as a strong favorite to win a second straight four-year term, after electoral rules were changed to allow him to run again. However, it remains unclear whether he will gain more than 51 percent of the votes needed for victory in a first round. If there is no clear winner, a run-off will take place next month.

The election is also being seen as a vote on whether to allow Medina's Democratic Liberation Party (PLD) to bolster its political dominance in the country. The party has won four of the last five presidential elections, and has held a majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies since 2004.

Medina has benefited in his campaign from a good economic record, with a growth of 7 percent in 2014 and 2015 making the Dominican Republic the fastest-growing economy in Latin America. His government has also boosted its popularity by funding a variety of social projects.

Among other things, 2,500 new schools have been built, and programs put in place to promote literacy and vocational training for adults - popular moves in a country that saw poverty rates rise to 41 percent in the first year of Medina's term, according to the World Bank.

Dominikanische Republik Demonstration - Präsidentschaftskandidat Danilo Medina

Medina enjoys high popularity ratings in polls

Corruption allegations

Closing his campaign on Thursday, Medina said he wanted to focus on harnessing economic growth to make the Dominican Republic a better place to live.

"I won't be satisfied until progress reaches everyone, when growth means a table full of food for everyone. When a sustainable economy means increasingly more quality jobs and dignified income for the families," he told a rally.

Medina's main challenger, businessman Luis Abinader, 48, differs little in ideology from the president, and has also vowed to promote social programs. Other main points in his campaign included pledges to fight crime, raise pay for police and the armed forces, and increase the national minimum wage.

He has also focused on allegations of corruption linked to Medina's campaign chief Joao Santana. Santana has been accused of receiving bribes from the Brazilian engineering conglomerate Odebrecht using funds siphoned from state oil company Petrobras.

Medina has yet to refer to the Petrobras scandal, but has admitted that Santana was his top adviser. Santana, in his turn, has denied all the allegations.

Among those voting on Sunday will be thousands of Dominicans living in the United States, mostly in large enclaves in New York and Florida. Results are expected on Monday.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with its poorer neighbor, Haiti, has a population of some 10.4 million. Its economy is based largely on the tourism attracted by the country's superb beaches.

tj/jlw (Reuters, AP)

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