Local July 27, 2019 | 7:40 am

The people have spoken. Society stopped extended presidential terms and proved that power is not absolute

Dozens of people participate in a protest against the possible constitutional reform that would again allow the re-election of the president of R. Dominicana, Danilo Medina, against the National Congress (bicameral), in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The National Congress Santo Domingo Rep. Dom. July 12, 2019. Photo Pedro Sosa

The main lesson derived from the decline of President Danilo Medina to a second consecutive constitutional reform to stay in power is the falsity of the old axiom that presidential power is absolute and cannot be challenged without risks of being crushed. 

The presidential decision announced on Monday 22 was determined by a set of causes, national and exogenous, but the fundamental thing was the impossibility of obtaining at any price the votes necessary for the constitutional reform because the opponents and the public conscience made the purchase expensive and the sale of legislators impossible.


The purchase of votes failed

As noted in The Topic of TODAY on Saturday 20, the promoters of the constitutional reform that would allow President Medina to seek a traumatic third government period failed. They could not buy all the votes they needed to complete the 148 that constitute the two-thirds of the national review assembly needed to approve the measure.

On January 10, under the title “The reelection project continues to face serious difficulties,” we argued that the distribution of votes by legislative blocs indicated that the continuity still lacked 40 to approve the reform. Six months later, “It seems that the constitutional reform is frozen,” we estimate that although the missing votes had been reduced to 29, they already seemed insurmountable by the resistance of the opponents to the reform. The legislators committed to former President Leonel Fernández managed a reduction from 46 to 42 and co-opted 7 of the 11 reformists.

But the end of the legislature, the deadlines for the October primaries and the growing national clamor claiming to end the uncertainty that already damaged economic stability, determined the decline in the dramatic presidential speech on Monday night. The body and facial language of Medina showed contradiction, so much that he did not directly and formally express the rejection, leaving it implicit in the context of the speech.

The axiom that the Dominican President can do everything has persisted even if it is not supported by reality: Joaquín Balaguer failed to be re-elected in 1978, Antonio Guzmán could not achieve it in 1982, Leonel Fernández failed to modify the Constitution in 1998 and had to resign himself in the 2012 election, and Hipólito Mejía was also unable to win the 2004 elections, after having reformed the Constitution two years before. 

The defeated continuity

Although like Leonel in 1998, Danilo argues that it was his enemies who sold the idea that he was trying to reform the Constitution for the sake of his re-election, first of all, to the country it was clear that he did everything he could to achieve it. He was overcome by the persistent rejection of the citizenry, which averaged 68 percent in all polls last year, resistance in his own Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the firm position of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), of institutions of civil society and a brave defense of democratic institutions by newspapers, and on countless radio and television programs, which even surpassed the immense communicative apparatus of Danilism.

There is no precedent in the country of four major political demonstrations convened by different sectors, confluent in the defense of democratic institutionality, such as those made in the 10 days before the decision of Medina, starring Luis Abinader and his followers before Congress on Friday 12, the Green March in Santiago on Sunday 14, that of Leonel Fernández and his men on Wednesday 17, and that of the Democratic Coalition for National Regeneration on Sunday 21 before the Altar of the Fatherland.

Medina failed because he underestimated the resilience of the Leonelists and the Perremeists, who shielded their legislators and exposed those who could sell themselves to social stigma, with threats of “moral wall” and expulsions, and because the arrogance led to the militarization of National Congress, even in its halls, becoming an international scandal. Additionally was the call of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, motivated by the concern that the unprecedented excess of a second consecutive constitutional reform, by the same actors, for a third continuous government period, would put political stability at risk. 

Reason for celebration

Against what political leaders have said, having put limits on the power of the State and the presidency, warlords, and provincialism after more than a year of harassment, there is reason to celebrate and proclaim that it is possible to defeat the political corporation that for two decades has manipulated the state, even with two constitutional reforms in the last 9 years. But not for a simple substitution, but to rescue the democratic institutionality, the separation of the powers of the State and the disproportionate manipulative patronage of the poorest.

For the opposition there is the lesson that a machinery of domination as broad as the one built by the PLD can only be faced by appealing to social and political mobilization, overcoming simple declarations. A part of the opposition had appeared hesitant to confront the imposition of the continuing candidacy, under the false premise that they could not coincide with the position of Leonel Fernández, as if he had not been a greater reformer for continuation when he has stated that the PLD should govern – if possible with him at the head – until the bicentennial of the Republic, which would be another 25 years.

Danilista harassment led society to exhaustion and maximum stress, since last year when in April the Senate passed that absurd law that forced all parties to choose their candidates through open and simultaneous primaries. They repeated until satisfaction that the votes had to reform the Constitution. They even disseminated supposed agreements with the opposition, to confuse, and they came to proclaim that power is not challenged, and that in Congress all have a price, what they came to believe until many opponents and people concerned with democratic institutions voiced an objection.

Side effects 

The capitulation of Danilo has had immediate effects on the strengthening of Leonel Fernández to embody the presidential candidacy of the PLD. At the same time, the tone of resentment of him evinced in the President’s speech, and his assertion that the PLD needs new blood has determined the increase in the activities of the candidates for the nomination that for months were halted by the re-election prominence.

They had presented themselves as alternatives in the shadow of Medina Reinaldo Pared Pérez. Temístocles Montás, Radhamés Segura, Carlos Amarante Baret, Francisco Domínguez Brito and Andrés Navarro. Three with few resources, Maritza Hernández, Manuel Crespo and Hipólito Polanco. The public works minister Gonzalo Castillo, one of the biggest promoters of the re-election of Danilo, announced his imminent launch and talks about Francisco Javier.

The sarcastic ones add to Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez, caught in the cover-up of the Odebrecht scandal. And there is no shortage of those who include Vice President Margarita Cedeño, the best place in the polls after the president and Leonel, her husband, so it is believed that he will not launch to compete. The malevolent say that Medina’s resentment with Leonel would lead him to support his wife. Danilo could have decided late since there are only 9 weeks left before any of that ten can surpass President Leonel Fernández three times, a favorite in the polls, who dreams of another couple of terms and if possible until the bicentennial of the Republic in 2044.

An overwhelmed president

The Danilo Medina who appeared on television on Monday night 22 was a president overwhelmed by the obstacles that forced him to resign his ambition for extended terms and forced even by business sectors, on the one hand worried about the rejection of the government of States together with the imposition of a continuation of terms, and on the other, because of the fallout that the mistakes and repercussions of the Odebrecht scandal and the militarization of Congress began to be reflected in the economic indicators.

The Central Bank had already had to release 34 billion pesos from the legal reserve and reduce by 0.50 the monetary policy rate to encourage credit and economic activity in decline in relation to the first months of last year. It was collected by the observatories of the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo and the Autonomous University, the entrepreneur Regional Center for Sustainable Economic Strategies, and economists as well informed and focused as Pavel Isa Contreras, Eduardo García Michel, Bernardo Vega and Haivanhoe Ng Cortiñas. He published in the newspaper El Dinero the article “Constitutional uncertainty slows the economy.”

Pavel Isa documented on the 23rd in the Caribbean a reduction in GDP growth in the first five months of the year, as a result of the decrease in exports, credit to producers, tourist income and even imports. Other sources indicate reduced production and industrial dynamism. There was also nervousness in the currency market. The conviction has been that the government’s commitment to constitutional reform without support was undermining the main merit of Medina’s management, growth, and macroeconomic stability.

The hundreds of millions of pesos spent during months in propaganda and mass actions that between all the provinces and even New York had been worth nothing, failing to open the gap to cast the constitutional reform as they did.

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