“The Law of Parties”, an article by Dr. Leonel Fernández

June 19, 2017

Over the course of this week, the commission of senators and deputies charged with studying and analyzing the legislation on political parties and electoral rules will enter a crucial phase. It will start looking at the most controversial and thorny issues to appear in the first of the bills under scrutiny.

After more than two months of continuous meetings, the members of the Bicameral Commission have managed to approve 40 of the 77 articles in the law on
political parties.

Passing this law aimed at regulating the operations of political organizations in the country is an item that has been languishing on the National Congress’s agenda for nearly 12 years.

Some may wonder why this is the case – why exactly it has taken so long to approve a law on political parties. Is it that the parties lack the political will to pass a law that regulates them? Is it that there’s
no interest in the sort of legislation that might be deemed potentially detrimental to their interests? We could come up with endless conjectures.

But I – I who have been at the epicenter of these events – can affirm that at least within the ranks of the Dominican Liberation Party, there’s been no such lack of interest.
Within the PLD’s Political Committee the bill has been studied and debated on several occasions, and the unanimous opinion
of its members is to proceed with approval. I believe the time has come.

Even so, up to this point the Dominican Republic has made great strides in its process of state reform and modernization. Since 2010, in the opinions of several prestigious international jurists, it has boasted one of the most modern and advanced constitutions in Ibero-America.

In addition, it has enacted state administrative and financial reform, judicial reform, an expansion of
and greater guarantees in the exercise of fundamental rights, a broad decentralization of the municipal system, and new transparency and accountability requirements.

Nonetheless, in order to forge onward in strengthening our democratic institutions, we must consolidate our system of political parties so that they can cement their role as instruments of citizen political participation and intermediaries between the state and society.

the parties

It is naturally not the case that our political parties have been operating in this country without regulations of any kind. Not at all. The current electoral law (Nr. 275-97) dedicates two titles and 37 of its articles – from 41 to 78 – to the party system.

These legal dispositives make references to the conditions for recognition of parties; their legal personhood; their financing methods; party mergers, alliances, and coalitions;
nomination of candidates; and even the causes of their demise.

In the Dominican Republic the political party system is fully constitutionalized.

Article 216 of our Constitution stipulates that in our country the organization of political parties, groups, and movements is free and that their setup and operations depend solely on adherence to the law.

Furthermore, according to the Constitution itself, the essential aims of our parties
are, among others, to guarantee citizen participation in the political processes that contribute to the strengthening of democracy; to respect political pluralism by offering candidacies for popularly elected offices; and to serve the national interest, collective wellbeing, and integral development of Dominican society.

But achieving these objectives at this moment urgently requires the approval of a law on political parties, which has become essential for the proper
functioning of our democracy.

Given that the Mixed Commission has now approved more than half the articles contained in the bill, its sponsors have now proposed the consideration of its more complicated and difficult facets.

These include the recognition of parties garnering 2 percent of valid votes cast in the most recent general elections; causes for the loss of the party or political association’s legal personhood; the question of gender
quotas; the percentage of candidacies reserved to the parties’ leadership; public and private financing; and the organization of primaries and use of the electoral register to select candidates for publicly elected offices.

Diversity of opinion
The complexity of the task awaiting our legislators is owed in part to the fact that no universally valid legislation exists to serve as a point of reference or model.

With regard to the various topics to be broached, other nations – particularly in Latin America – have highly dissimilar pieces of legislation.

For example, with regard to valid votes cast so that a party can retain its legal recognition, Chile, Guatemale, and Peru require 5 percent; Nicaragua and Panama 4 percent; Bolivia and Colombia 3 percent; Argentina and Mexico 2 percent; and Brazil has no percentage requirement.

We debate the 2 percent
figure amongst ourselves, with some suggesting it be higher and some that it be lower. How to resolve this? What are the criteria to decide? In terms of gender quotas, or the percentage of candidacies required to be reserved to women, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela require 50 percent, that is, full gender parity; Mexico 40 percent; and Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala, zero.

In the Dominican Republic, this quota is contemplated to be set at 33 percent, as
currently drafted in Law Nr. 275-97 on electoral matters.

In the legislation of some Latin American countries no right is granted to the parties’ leadership to reserve the authority to select candidates. In others the percentage is up to 40 percent. Here we contemplate that it be 20 percent.

Party financing is one of the thorniest issues. The proposed bill stipulates that in the Dominican Republic with regards to the distribution of state
economic resources, 75 percent be distributed based on the share of votes won in the last election, and the remaining 25 percent divided equally among all parties. Most parties, influenced by the US system, have adopted the mechanism of primaries to select their candidates.

These primaries may be open, meaning all citizens on the electoral register can participate; or closed, in which case only registered party members may exercise their right to suffrage.

Article 32 of the party law lays out that for the selection of political bodies’ candidacies for the Presidency of the Republic, Senate, Mayorships, and Governors, simultaneous primaries will be held using the Central Electoral Council’s national voter registry.

Currently this method is used in Latin America exclusively in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

As can be seen above, various criteria are employed to define the
content of regulations for any given country’s political party system.

But despite this diversity, what emerges as the common element is the need for a party law to stimulate citizen participation in political processes; to improve internal democracy in the parties and lay out clear rules for electoral contests; to promote transparency in the financing of political organizations; to incentivize women’s participation in political activity; to strengthen
democracy; and to raise the quality of public debate.

If we manage, with the approval of the law on parties now in the hands of the Bicameral Commission, to achieve all these aims, we may say that despite the long wait – in the words of Henry IV – it is well worth a mass.