The Dominican Republic holds regular elections that are relatively free, though recent years have been characterized by controversies around implementing a new electoral framework. Pervasive corruption undermines state institutions. Discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants, as well as against LGBT+ people, remain serious problems.
- Though the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the May presidential and legislative elections until July, election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) commended the credible polling administration and efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Luis Abinader and the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) won the presidential and legislative votes respectively, ending the Dominican Liberation Party’s (PLD) 16 years of governance. Observers noted low voter turnout, electoral technology issues, and a lack of implementation campaign finance laws.
- In November, the Anti-Corruption Office (PEPCA) commenced “Operation Anti Pulpo,” which charged 11 former government officials with administrative corruption, including the brother and sister of former president Danilo Medina. Seven defendants were detained pending trial and others were under house arrest at the end of the year.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is both head of state and chief of government and is elected to a four-year term. A 2015 constitutional amendment allowed presidents to run for a second term. Luis Abinader of the PRM was elected president over the PLD’s Gonzalo Castillo, ending the PLD’s 16-year tenure. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed elections from May to July 2020. Voter turnout was low at 49.6 percent, compared to 68 percent in 2016.
Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) monitored the elections and deemed the polls credible. They lauded the Central Electoral Board’s (JCE’s) measures to reduce the possibility of spreading the coronavirus at polling stations and the consensus among political forces in postponing the election.
Inconsistent enforcement of social distancing and curfew measures implemented due to the pandemic benefited the PLD and both parties used pandemic-related food, services, and medical supplies to incentivize voters. OAS observers reiterated issues with electronic voting that delayed municipal elections earlier in the year and repeated calls for compliance with parity requirements for women candidates and better supervision of parties’ and candidates’ finances under existing regulations.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The Dominican Republic’s bicameral National Congress consists of the 32-member Senate and the 190-member Chamber of Deputies, with members of both chambers directly elected to four-year terms. The PRM gained majorities in both chambers in the July 2020 legislative elections, which were held alongside the presidential election.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The February 2019 Electoral Regime Law and the August 2018 Law of Political Parties, Groups, and Movements establish the country’s new electoral framework. A Special Prosecutor for Investigation and Persecution of Electoral Crimes and Offences was instituted by the Electoral Regime Law, but election observers expressed concerns about its political independence. The July 2020 elections exposed gaps in the implementation of campaign finance laws—demonstrated by unregulated distribution of gifts and humanitarian aid, candidates’ failure to submit required budgets and income and expenditure reports, and a lack of transparency in public fund allocations to candidates. Challenges to both electoral laws were still pending at the end of 2020.
Despite the JCE’s shortcomings, the body operates with some transparency and cooperates with election monitors, opposition parties, and other relevant groups; it held a series of postelection meetings to improve the existing electoral framework.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties are generally free to form and operate. However, newer and smaller parties struggle to access public financing and secure equal media coverage. They can be dissolved if they do not achieve at least one percent of votes. Provisions of the 2018 electoral law that required a minimum amount of time that competing candidates must be associated with their party were declared unconstitutional in 2019.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties and candidates generally do not face selective restrictions during election periods but are disadvantaged by elements of the electoral framework. In July 2020, the main opposition party, the PRM, ended the PLD’s 16-year tenure and won a majority in the National Congress.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People are generally free to exercise their political choices. A history of violent police responses to social and political demonstrations may deter political participation by some, and economic oligarchies and organized crime groups have some influence over the political sphere. Electoral laws require some accountability for campaign finances, but political parties and presidential candidates do not always comply.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Gender parity laws requiring between 40 and 60 percent of candidates for the National Congress be women were not respected during the July 2020 elections. Women hold 47 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate.
A 2013 Constitutional Tribunal decision stripped Dominican-born descendants of Haitian migrants of their citizenship, and thus their right to vote. Discriminatory attitudes and occasional acts of targeted violence against Black Dominicans (perceived to be Haitians) and LGBT+ people discourage their political participation.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Government and legislative representatives are generally able to determine national policies in a free and unhindered manner. President Abinader’s government was duly installed six weeks after the elections, and the legislature approved 94 initiatives in the first hundred days. In March 2020, Congress authorized former president Medina to declare a state of emergency for 25 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was extended throughout the year including after President Abinader took power. A state of emergency was still in place at year’s end.
Though remote work and restricted in-person sessions were implemented during the pandemic, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate still operated freely, advancing hundreds of legislative initiatives.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious, systemic problem at all levels of the government, judiciary, and security forces, and in the private sector. Reports indicate that politicians routinely accept bribes. A US Justice Department investigation into the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, the results of which became public in late 2016, revealed that $92 million had been paid to public officials in the Dominican Republic to obtain contracts for major infrastructure projects in the country during three consecutive governments. Numerous officials from prior administrations were linked to the scandal, but only seven were formally charged. Trials for six defendants resumed in September 2020 but stalled in December due to the absence of a key witness, a former Odebrecht employee. This led the Anti-Corruption Office (PEPCA) to explore canceling the agreement that grants Odebrecht immunity from criminal prosecution.
The new government committed to significant anticorruption policies and announced that it would cease its contractual relationships with Odebrecht. In November 2020, PEPCA commenced “Operation Anti Pulpo,” which charged 11 former government officials with administrative corruption, including the brother and sister of former president Medina. Seven defendants are detained pending trial and others were under house arrest at the end of the year.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The government does not always operate with transparency. Although state agencies generally respond to information requests, they often provide inaccurate or incomplete responses. Public officials are required to publicly disclose assets, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have cast doubt upon the accuracy of these disclosures. Public contracting and purchasing processes are opaque and allow for high levels of corruption. The government used digital channels and apps to share information in 2020 about the coronavirus pandemic.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The law guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. Several national daily newspapers and many local publications operate in the country. There are more than 300 privately owned radio stations and several private television networks alongside the state-owned Radio Televisión Dominicana (RTVD), though ownership of private outlets is highly concentrated and public funding of media lacks transparency. The economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in suspensions oof radio and television opinion programs and staff reductions at major newspapers.
Journalists risk intimidation and violence when investigating drug trafficking and corruption and may also face legal or regulatory pressure as a result of their investigations. During the pandemic, state authorities threatened, attacked, arrested and detained journalists, although the press members were exempt from curfew restrictions. Charges for defamation and insult brought against journalist Marino Zapete in 2019, following corruptions allegations he levied against the sister of the country’s public prosecutor, were dropped in September 2020, and his accuser was fined.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally upheld. However, the Catholic Church receives special privileges from the state including funding for construction, and exemptions from custom duties.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees regarding academic freedom are generally observed.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to express personal views in public and privately without fear of retribution or surveillance.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, and demonstrations are common, but sometimes subject to violent dispersal by police. Dominican-Haitian activists were arrested after a peaceful antiracism demonstration in June 2020.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed, and the government respects the right to form civic groups.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers other than military and police personnel may form and join unions, though over 50 percent of workers at a workplace must be union members in order to engage in collective bargaining. Workers must exhaust mediation measures and meet other criteria for a strike to be considered legal. In practice, union membership is discouraged, and workers risk dismissal for joining.
In September 2020, the National Confederation of Trade Unions pushed the government to pay a holiday bonus and extend social assistance for workers suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the government announced plans to pay pensions to cane-cutters after decades-long protests.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
Judicial independence is hampered by corruption and the judiciary is susceptible to political pressure. Justices of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court are appointed to seven- and nine-year terms, respectively, by the National Council of the Judiciary. The body is comprised of the president, the leaders of both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court president, and a congressional representative from an opposition party; its composition has led to claims that the body is susceptible to politicization. Transparency International’s office in the Dominican Republic identified judicial delay, judicial autonomy, and curbing inefficient spending among necessary reforms.
In October 2020, the Dominican Republic Lawyers College won a challenge to reopen all courts to prevent the possibility of politicized decisions in virtual proceedings during the pandemic.
Reports of selective prosecution and the improper dismissal of cases continue.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption and politicization of the justice system have significant impact on due process, and strongly limit access to justice for people without resources or political connections. Corruption within law enforcement agencies remains a serious challenge.
In May 2020, 63 percent of people being held in prisons were in pretrial detention.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Rates of murder and other violent crime are high. Local organization The Citizens’ Security Observatory reported a modest 3.9 percent reduction in the 2019 homicide rate, and the National Human Rights Commission and NGOs reported that security forces had committed at least 80 extrajudicial killings. Police occasionally used violence to implement pandemic-related measures.
Prisons are severely overcrowded.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Dominicans with European features or lighter skin color enjoy systemic advantages. Dominican-Haitians and Haitian migrants face persistent discrimination, including obstacles in securing legal documents such as identification, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, and have difficulty registering their children as Dominican citizens. Without identification, they are ineligible for any social assistance. Women experience a significant amount of workplace discrimination, and the gender pay gap is 20 percent, as of 2020.
Before he left office, President Medina issued a resolution granting naturalized citizenship to 750 individuals denationalized by a 2013 court judgment, which was being challenged before the Constitutional Tribunal.
LGBT+ people experience occasional violence, as well as discrimination in employment, education, and health services. They are barred from working in certain public sectors, such as the police and armed forces. An antidiscrimination bill remained stalled in Parliament at the end of 2020.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
While citizens are generally free to move around the country, during the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands were arrested for violating restrictions on public gatherings. At times, police unlawfully detained and acted violently toward those who violated coronavirus-related restrictions. Asylum seekers and refugees must pay a fee to gain travel documents.
People of Haitian descent without identification cards cannot attend university or obtain formal jobs.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Private business activity remains susceptible to undue influence by organized crime and corrupt officials.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Violence and discrimination against women remain pervasive. Poor medical care has left the country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. A 2015 Constitutional Tribunal decision effectively reinstated a complete ban on abortion. The new president expressed support for decriminalization in cases of rape or incest, risk to the life of the mother, and fetal abnormality, which mirrored a 2018 national public opinion survey.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Many workers in the country are employed informally, leaving them without legal protections.
The Dominican Republic remains a source, transit, and destination country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Haitians who lack documentation and clear legal status are particularly susceptible to forced labor but are often overlooked by antitrafficking initiatives.
The 2020 Trafficking in Persons report issued by the US State Department highlighted fewer convictions of traffickers, inadequate sentencing, insufficient victims’ services, and a lack of transparency regarding official complicity in trafficking.
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Global Freedom Score67 100 partly free