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2 Candidates Agree to Settle Dominican Republic Ballot Dispute

Times Staff Writer

In the week since the Dominican presidential elections, vote-counting has been tied up in a tangle of maneuvering and wrangling between the parties of the two leading candidates. Instead of a president-elect, the process has produced a perplexing post-electoral crisis.

The crisis eased Thursday, however, when candidates Joaquin Balaguer, 78, and Jacobo Majluta, 51, met for an hour in Balaguer’s two-story gray house. Afterward, the two candidates, both former presidents, said they agreed that differences should be resolved and the vote-counting finished as quickly as possible.

The key cause of the delay has been a bitter dispute over the membership of the three-person Central Electoral Board, which administers elections. Majluta and Balaguer agreed Thursday that the board’s makeup should be decided by the national Senate, in which their two parties hold all 27 seats.

A Break in the Impasse

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“There is agreement between the two parties,” Balaguer said.

A foreign political analyst said the agreement appears to signal a break in the post-electoral impasse.

“That’s a great step forward,” he said. “That ought to help an awful lot.”

But the analyst added that the volatile politics of this Caribbean country are hard to predict.

“There are great possibilities for a really severe crisis and violence,” he said.

A 1965 political crisis in the Dominican Republic led to civil war and U.S. military intervention. There has been no violence this week, but political tension has been high.

To prevent the broadcast of any inflammatory information, the Electoral Board has controlled radio and television programming. Broadcast news programs have been banned. In the information vacuum, false rumors have spread that electoral officials and politicians were arrested, that the acting chairman of the Electoral Board was preparing a fraud, that the armed forces were taking over the Electoral Board, that senior officers were planning a military coup.

Civic groups, businessmen and others have published newspaper notices calling for calm and for a “civilized” solution to the crisis.

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For the first day after last Friday’s elections, things went smoothly enough. Balaguer and Majluta were running neck and neck as voting returns mounted slowly. But on Sunday, after Balaguer pulled ahead in the count, the Central Electoral Board stopped compiling returns. That night, Majluta protested that the returns were “adulterated” by irregularities. Angrily claiming he had won, he called for a full review of all poll reports and demanded the removal of two members of the Electoral Board.

The two, including the board chairman, stepped aside, allowing their replacement by alternate members. But Balaguer’s party filed a formal demand for the removal of the alternate member who had become the acting board chairman.

At 2:20 a.m. Wednesday, the reshuffled board issued a compilation of votes from 96% of the 6,024 polling places. Balaguer was still ahead with 837,231 votes, or 41.6%. Majluta was close behind with 795,310 votes, or 39.5%.

Count Stopped Again

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Then the count stopped again.

The Electoral Board has used computerized compilations, based partly on poll reports transmitted by electronic facsimile machines. Majluta supporters said those methods are not acceptable. They demanded that before the provisional count is finished, poll reports be verified and recompiled by hand.

The same position has been taken by Ponciano Rondon, the Electoral Board’s acting chairman.

Computer results and facsimile copies “are not contemplated in the law,” Rondon told reporters.

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Balaguer’s Social Christian Reformist Party says Rondon must be removed from the board because he is a “militant” partisan of Majluta’s Dominican Revolutionary Party.

Chairman on Way Out?

After Thursday’s agreement between Balaguer and Majluta, Rondon appeared to be on his way out. Balaguer said the new Electoral Board chairman “will be a person who inspires the confidence of everyone.”

Balaguer’s supporters naturally blame Majluta for the electoral crisis, but they are not the only ones. Rival leaders within Majluta’s deeply divided Revolutionary Party also criticize the Majluta faction.

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“They haven’t had the delicacy to behave well,” said Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, the party chairman.

President Salvador Jorge Blanco, also a member of the Revolutionary Party, wrote a chiding letter to Majluta, calling for a resumption of the vote-counting. The letter, published Thursday, urged Majluta to exercise “prudence and equanimity” and “to not lose your sense of what a people always expects of a leader.”

At Balaguer’s house Thursday, Majluta was no longer claiming victory, and he respectfully addressed the older man as “senor presidente.

Balaguer was president from 1966 to 1978. Majluta was president for 43 days in 1982 after his predecessor committed suicide.

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