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Dominicans vote in general elections with eyes on crisis in neighboring Haiti

Electoral officials assist a voter to cast his ballot during general elections in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix) Electoral officials assist a voter to cast his ballot during general elections in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -

Voters in the Dominican Republic cast ballots Sunday in general elections likely to reinforce the government's crackdown on its shared border with Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence-stricken nation.

Leading the presidential race is President Luis Abinader, who is seeking reelection as one of the most popular leaders in the Americas. If he tops 50 per cent of the vote, he will win another term without proceeding to a second round of voting.

Trailing him are former President Leonel Fernandez and Mayor Abel Martinez. Dominicans are also voting in legislative elections.

Many of the 8 million eligible voters in the Dominican Republic are still traumatized by an electoral authority decision to suspend the 2020 municipal elections due to a technical glitch.

Abelardo Ubri Antomarche, a teacher who lives in capital city of Santo Domingo, was one of the first to vote shortly after 7 a.m.

"We need to vote, no matter how," he said.

The voting centers in the Dominican Republic will be open until 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), with first results expected a few hours later.

With voting running smoothly throughout the morning, Abinader told press Sunday that the voting process was transparent and today "democracy must win."

"Dominican democracy is strong and will come out stronger from this process," Abinader said.

 Abinader's anti-corruption agenda and push to grow the Dominican Republic's economy has resonated with many of the 8 million voters in the Caribbean nation. Much of his popularity, however, has been fueled by the government's harsh crackdown on Haitians and the border the Dominican Republic shares with its crisis-stricken neighbor.

"This migratory problem worries me, because we're seeing a massive migration from our neighbor and it feels like it's out of control," said Perla Concepcion, a 29-year-old secretary, adding that migration was her main concern as she takes to the polls.

The Dominican Republic has long taken a hard line stance with Haitian migrants, but such policies have ramped up since Haiti entered a free fall following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. As gangs have terrorized Haitians, the Dominican government has built a Trump-like border wall along its 250-mile (400-kilometre) border. He has also repeatedly urged the United Nations to send an international force to Haiti, saying such action "cannot wait any longer."

The government has also rejected calls to build refugee camps for those fleeing the violence and carried out mass deportations of 175,000 Haitians last year, according to government figures. While the policy is popular among voters, it has provoked sharp criticisms from human rights organizations who call it racist and a violation of international law.

"These collective expulsions are a clear violation of the Dominican Republic's international obligations and put the lives and rights of these people at risk. Forced returns to Haiti must end," Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International, wrote in an April report.

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