Political Parties

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Political parties and a political party system in the modern sense had a very short history in the Dominican Republic, dating back only to the early 1960s. Most parties were weakly organized, had weak and inexperienced political leadership, were neither very ideological nor programmatic, and were generally based on personalistic followings rather than on concrete programs.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, two main parties, or movements, had dominated Dominican politics. These were the PRD and the Reformist Party (Partido Reformista--PR). Both these parties had gone through several reorganizations.

The PRD had been founded in 1939 by exiles from the Trujillo dictatorship. It functioned as an exiled organization for twentytwo years, before returning to the Dominican Republic in 1961 after Trujillo's assassination.

In the late 1980s, the PRD was a left-of-center, democratic political party. Strongly oriented toward social justice, it sought to assist peasants and workers. Although nationalistic, the PRD belonged to the Socialist International. Its platform supported both political and economic democracy. A strongly reformist party, the PRD nonetheless was committed to implementing change through democratic means.

On the strength of this program, the PRD, led by the charismatic Juan Bosch, had won the 1962 election, the freest in the country's history, by a two-to-one margin. Bosch was overthrown, however, after only seven months in office. The PRD organized a constitutionalist revolt, in 1965, aimed at restoring democratic government, but the revolution was put down militarily by the United States, an action that made Bosch and many PRD leaders bitterly resentful of the United States. Perceived as a symbol of instability and revolution, Bosch lost the 1966 election to Balaguer. For the next twelve years, the PRD went into eclipse; it functioned primarily as the Dominican Republic's largest opposition party. After a major split, Bosch left to form his own, more radical, PLD.

In 1978, under Guzmán, and again in 1982 under Jorge, the PRD won the national elections. It governed moderately and without the rancor of the past, but as it tried to put its social program into effect, it ran up against the constraints of austerity.

The PRD had a clear ideological program and was the best organized political party in the country; however, it was torn by personal and ideological differences. Pitted against each other were its right wing, led by Majluta; its center, led by Jorge; and its left wing, led by José Francisco Peña Gómez. These differences became even more pronounced in 1989. Former president Jorge was indicted for corruption, and hence his popularity plummeted; Majluta was neither trusted nor respected by many in the party and the nation; and Peña Gómez was reportedly contemplating the launching of his own independent movement, which would further split the PRD. A number of younger leaders, such as Jorge protegé Hatuey de Camps Jiménez, also rose to prominence within the party in the 1980s. When unified, the PRD was usually strong enough to win elections, but when divided it usually lost. After the death of Trujillo, the PRD was divided more often than it was unified.

The other major party was the PR, the personal machine of President Balaguer. More conservative than the PRD, the PR lacked a clear-cut program. It consisted of officeholders, job seekers, and persons loyal to Balaguer. The PR functioned more as a patronage mechanism than as a party with an identifiable ideology. Balaguer used this political machine to win elections in 1966, 1970, and 1974. The PR dispensed jobs and favors and, in general, helped him to govern.

In 1985 Balaguer promoted a union between the PR and the Revolutionary Social Christian Party (Partido Revolucionario Social Cristiano--PRSC). The PRSC was the established Christian Democratic party in the country; it was widely respected, but it had little electoral strength. Balaguer gave the PRSC the leadership and the electoral support that it had lacked. The PRSC, in turn, gave Balaguer the support of its trade union, student, and peasant organizations; its legitimacy as a serious Christian Democratic party; and its connections with the Christian Democratic International. The new party designated itself the Social Christian Reformist Party (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano--PRSC), changing its name slightly, but retaining the old initials. The PRSC won the 1986 election by a slim margin over the PRD.

The third major party, Bosch's PLD, won 18 percent of the vote in 1986. It was more radical than the PRD and more antiUnited States. Its program called for the establishment of a "revolutionary dictatorship" and for close relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union. The PLD appealed to young people and to those whose disaffection with the prevailing social, political, and economic system in the Dominican Republic had reached an extreme degree; it gained popular support during the 1980s as a result of the country's manifold economic and political problems.

Balaguer and Bosch had long been personal, as well as political and ideological, rivals. Indeed, by 1989 these two men had been jousting with each other politically for some fifty years. In 1989 both were in their eighties. They were the two main protagonists, the two rival caudillos, of modern Dominican politics. Their rivalry delineated the overlap between traditional personalism and modern party politics.

The Dominican Republic's several minor parties were weakly organized, and they usually represented the personal followings of individual caudillos. In the 1986 election, none of these parties received as much as 1 percent of the vote, which made their eligibility to compete in future elections questionable. Several of these personal machines were simply testing the political waters in 1986, and they might come back in reorganized form in future elections. Another possibility was that their leaders might try to merge their organizations with the larger parties, or perhaps themselves become the candidates of the larger parties. These relations illustrated the fluidity and the lack of institutionalization of the Dominican party system.

The extreme-left and communist parties never had much of a popular following. Bosch's formation of the PLD further undermined the potential support of the extreme left. Many Dominican peasants were conservative rather than radical, and the weak unions were increasingly oriented toward "bread-and-butter" issues rather than revolutionary action. In addition, the close ties of the Dominican Republic to the United States and the absence of widespread class conflict among Dominicans--Haitians formed the cane-cutting "proletariat" in the countryside, and, therefore, the potential for class conflict was sapped by racial, cultural, and nationalistic considerations--further diminished the possibility of a strong communist movement.

The two main far-left parties were the Communist Party of the Dominican Republic (Partido Comunista de la República Dominicana- -Pacoredo)--a splinter group of the Dominican Communist Party (Partido Comunista Dominicano--PCD)--and the Socialist Bloc (Bloque Socialista--BS). These two parties chose not to field candidates in the 1986 election, in part because doing so would have revealed their weak electoral appeal. The Moscow-line PCD did enter the 1986 election, and it received only 4,756 votes-- considerably less than 1 percent of the total. Nevertheless, all the far-left parties actively criticized the PRD and the PRSC and publicly presented their own points of view. The communist parties had little popular following in their own right, but by attaching themselves to the nationalistic Bosch and the PLD they could conceivably wield influence out of proportion to their numbers.

Some signs indicated that a basic and more stable two-party system, consisting of the left-of-center PRD and the right-of- center PRSC, might be evolving in the Dominican Republic in the late 1980s. A two-and-a-half party system, with the PLD joining these other two, represented another possibility. Nevertheless, the political system continued to be quite fluid; personalities still counted at least as much as parties. Other routes to power existed besides party activism and elections; therefore, the consolidation of a stable, functioning party system could not yet be taken for granted.

More about the Government and Politics of the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress