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Dominican Republic Vote Peaceful; Counting Slowed : Caribbean: The presidential race between two octogenarians is rated a toss-up.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dominican voters crowded the polls Wednesday in a peaceful election to choose one of two octogenarians to lead this economically hard-pressed country for the next four years.

The presidential race appeared to be a toss-up between the incumbent conservative President Joaquin Balaguer, 83, and leftist former President Juan Bosch, 80, facing one another at the polls for the fifth time in the last quarter century.

Difficulties in counting complex colored ballots the size and shape of paper place mats slowed the reporting of returns, and a reliable projection of the winning tally was not expected until sometime this morning.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who previously monitored elections in Panama and Nicaragua, were among about 30 international observers invited here by the country’s Electoral Commission to guard against vote fraud.

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Carter rushed to one voting center in San Pedro de Marcoris, about 37 miles east of Santo Domingo, to investigate a report of irregularities, but a member of his entourage said the trouble turned out to be a relatively minor dispute among rival polling officials. There were reports of delays in opening polling places in a number of spots, but no major violations of election rules were reported before polls closed at 6 p.m.

Armed soldiers guarded the streets of the capital city, which remained quiet throughout the most peaceful election day this country has enjoyed since U.S. troops oversaw Balaguer’s first election victory in 1966. U.S. Marines and the 82nd Airborne Division intervened in 1965 to stop a civil war that threatened to put deposed President Bosch back in power. Noting Bosch’s close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, President Lyndon B. Johnson said he ordered the invasion to prevent “another Cuba.”

Virtually all businesses were closed Wednesday, and sale of alcoholic beverages was banned. The nation’s radio and television stations were placed under the control of the Electoral Commission to guard against last-minute politicking. All TV stations showed the same diet of merengue music and movies.

Balaguer, the author of more than 20 books including some poetry, said he thought the voting went “normally” and declared, “I will accept the results whatever they may be.”

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Bosch, who refused to submit to the standard procedure of having one finger inked to guard against voting more than once, said: “I am not optimistic or pessimistic. I am realistic because everyone knows we won this election a long time ago.”

The one-time president whose Marxism and anti-Americanism aroused the ire of several U.S. Presidents campaigned on an essentially capitalist platform that stressed industrial development and privatizing some state-owned industries.

Balaguer, who once served as figurehead president under dictator Rafael Trujillo and retains right-wing support, defended the tight state control that has characterized his four democratically elected presidential terms.

The Bush Administration and U.S. diplomats here have remained neutral during the campaign. U.S. Ambassador Paul Taylor said: “The decision on who the Dominican Republic is going to elect is going to be made by the Dominican people.”

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