“A Decisive Day for Democracy”, an article by Dr. Leonel Fernández

August 8, 2018

Listín Diario “Observatorio Global”
Author: Leonel Fernández @LeonelFernandez

The strength of the Dominican democratic system will be put to the test today when the Chamber of Deputies faces the proposed Law of Parties, Groupings and Political Movements.

The passing of the bill by the Special Commission on
Thursday, August 2 preceded this step. The lower chamber created the Special Commission to approve the bill through consensus among the different political forces represented in the National Congress.

After the aforementioned commission met 18 times and the Senate presidents did so on three occasions, several aspects of the law were agreed upon. When discussing aspects related to articles 37 and 42 of the law, which concern the way that candidates are chosen for popular
election, it was not possible to reach a consensus.

In the sub-committee created to establish an agreed-upon revision of articles 37 and 42, consensus vanished when the representation of the Christian Social Reformist Party (PRSC, for its initials in Spanish) surprisingly changed its mind at the last minute, which resulted in a deciding decision of three votes in favor and two against.

When the Special Commission got together on Thursday, August 2, it
expressed a similarly polarized decision with a vote count of seven in favor and six against.

Within legislative circles a rumor is being spread that the PRSC’s change had to do with outside pressures, which could put in danger its own survival as a political organization.

The Senate’s passing of the Political Parties, Groups and Movements Bill had established that candidates running for popular election would be chosen solely
through open and simultaneous primary elections, organized and watched over by the Central Electoral Board.

The Senate’s decision was met with widespread opposition from the Central Electoral Board; 24 political parties; business organizations; the catholic and evangelical churches; civil society organizations and the major communication outlets.

In light of this situation, the president of the Dominican Republic sent a letter to the
presidents of both chambers of the National Congress. Upon recognizing that the bill didn””””t have support from two thirds of the lower chamber as required for its approval, the president requested that the leaders explore alternative options to simultaneous and open primaries by seeking consensus.

The Upending of Consensus and Alternative Options
In consideration of the president’s letter, anticipation arose of possible
agreement among all sectors represented in the National Congress. Immediately an avenue of bicameral communication was established, led by the presidents of both chambers.

Unfortunately those discussions ended in failure due to the fact that they were trying to impose open and simultaneous primaries –in an indirect way– that the Senate had approved, but which were not possible to uphold in a direct way.

Subsequently, in the framework of the Special
Commission, the 11 parties that made up the opposing bloc brought forth a proposal entitled “The Opposition’s Proposal for the Establishment of a Truly Democratic System,” also popularly known as “the little book proposal.”

When referring to the topic of primaries in that text, the coalition of opposition parties claimed, “Each party should decide the election method of their internal candidates or those running
for popular election according to what is established under their own statutes and in agreement with law.”

Furthermore, it states that “primaries, or whatever method chosen by the parties, should be voluntary, simultaneous, binding, with the electoral list of each party and be supervised with logistical support from the Central Electoral Board…”

Despite divergence in some specific points of that proposal, in general the
approach facilitated the search for consensus in the framework of respect for the Constitution, since in some way it also garnered the spirit of the Central Electoral Board’s initial proposal.

However, the PRM, which had become the main supporter of the bloc of opposition parties backing those proposals, bizarrely broke away. It then adopted an alleged flexibility that consisted of allowing each party to decide the method, format and electoral list to be used in
their primary elections.

With the new approach of having each party choose their type of electoral list, the PRM not only distanced itself from the opposition bloc, but also became the lead actor in the introduction –in an indirect way– of the very mechanism it was trying to avoid through the search for alternatives.

Why did the PRM change its stance so abruptly? Which forces, internal and or external, came into play to change their attitude?

The answers to these questions remain unclear. But what we do know is that when introducing that new element, the PRM started discord and promoted something unconstitutional that the Chamber of Deputies will have to decide upon today.

The breaking off of the PRSC disturbingly added to the change of the PRM’s position with the opposition consensus reflected in “the little book.”

In their new stance, the party of the
rooster contributed to restarting an argument that until then had no backing. The party argued that high bodies of each party and not the collective party members (as it should be) decide the way in which elections are carried out and the electoral list is development by each political organization in the election of their candidates running for popular election.

The Arithmetic of Democracy
D Day has been considered a decisive day since the
landing of the allied forces at Normandy during World War II. Today is a D Day for Dominican democracy.

It is a decisive day because those chosen as representatives of the people will have to decide between particular interests of some members of the parties (that Robert Mitchels described as the iron oligarchy of the parties) and the national interest, the respect for the Constitution and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

Facing this
dilemma, the current balance of power in the Chamber of Deputies would presumably prevent open and simultaneous primaries –introduced as an option or by an indirect route– from being approved.

The reason is that the factions that advocate for this proposition don’t have the two-thirds vote required by article 112 of the Constitution to approve organizational laws such as the Law of Political Parties, Groupings and Movements.

With the recent
addition of 11 votes from the reformist party, the supporters of the open and simultaneous primary option will have 101 votes. 25 votes would still be missing to obtain the required 127 votes for the approval of the political party law.

However, in the National Congress there is the possibility of a fragmentation of the 50 PRM deputies. There are 17 deputies from that political group that tend to side with the minority who would vote in favor of open and simultaneous
primaries as an option for choosing party candidates running for political office.

On the other hand, there are whispers that there is another group of deputies that make up part of the perremeísta orientation that presumptively would have already been “persuaded” by external forces to obtain approval of the simultaneous and open primary option.

Furthermore, it’s publically known that within the
negotiations that took place, it was agreed that a group of PRM deputies be absent from the historic session this Tuesday as a way to reduce the quantity of the two thirds required for the approval of the political parties law.

The public opinion will be attentive to the voting outcome of the Chamber of Deputies and to the unjustified absences that may take place. Thus, the public will be able to identify those who actually are committed to the defense of the

In light of the need to have a Law of Political Parties, Groupings and Movements that is in harmony with the Constitution and serves as an instrument for the strengthening of democratic institutions, the most ideal situation would have been to pass a law with the consensus of all involved sectors.