Fernandez wins Dominican Rep. election
Former President Leonel Fernandez won a presidential election in the Dominican Republic after voters punished incumbent Hipolito Mejia for an economic slump in the Caribbean country.
Mejia conceded defeat to his rival late on Sunday, saying his center-left Dominican Revolutionary Party estimated Fernandez was set to win about 54 percent of the vote, to his own 36 percent.
"I concede victory to the Dominican Liberation Party," Mejia told reporters, speaking as early results trickled in. "I congratulate President Leonel Fernandez."
Fernandez, a 50-year-old lawyer and academic who was in office from 1996 to 2000, needed to garner at least 50 percent of the votes to win the election outright and avoid a run-off vote on June 30 in the country of 8.5 million people.
Opinion polls had predicted a Fernandez victory and showed Mejia, 63, faced a backlash over soaring prices and job losses.
"I thank President Mejia for this recognition, I believe it is a form of contributing to democracy," said Fernandez, who locked horns with Mejia in a bitter exchange of insults during a the campaign.
The election was marred by violence in which three people were killed and there were scattered reports of voting irregularities, but international observers said the election had largely been fair.
The campaign focused on the economic crisis, triggered by the collapse a year ago of one of the country's largest private banks with losses of more than $2 billion that tore a hole in the public coffers. Fernandez had presided over annual growth of more than 7 percent, making the Dominican Republic one of Latin America's success stories.
Heavily dependent on imports, the country has seen its peso dive to a third of the value it had against the U.S. dollar in 2000, inflation rose to more than 40 percent and many small businesses collapsed. It secured a $600 million International Monetary Fund loan last year to tide it through the crisis.
THREE KILLED IN POLL STATION FIGHT
Three people were killed and two others wounded in a gunfight at a polling station in the town of Barahona, about 110 miles southwest of the capital Santo Domingo.
Witnesses said fighting erupted between a handful of rival supporters of the two main candidates and shooting began.
There were also reports of other voting irregularities, but the Organization of American States, which sent more than 100 election observers, said most citizens had enjoyed a free and orderly vote, and appealed to candidates and their supporters to respect the results.
In recent weeks, Mejia had improved his poll standings and Fernandez accused him of buying support with state resources, and of dirty tactics.
With just under 3 percent of the votes counted, Fernandez, the candidate of the centrist Dominican Liberation Party, had 51.2 percent of the vote, while Mejia had 38.9 percent.
A total of 11 candidates ran in the election. Apart from Fernandez and Mejia, only Christian Democrat candidate Eduardo Estrella had significant support and early results showed him with 9.5 percent of the vote.