Government of the Dominican Republic takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of the Dominican Republic is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the National Congress. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
The Executive has long been the dominant branch in the Dominican governmental system. The president of the Dominican Republic is both the Head of State and the Head of Government, and is Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
A cabinet of ministers ("Secretarios de Estado") that he designates assists the President in his functions. Since August 2004, the President of the Republic is Leonel Fernández Reina and the Vice president is Rafael Alburquerque de Castro, of Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD), which won in the first election round with a majority vote of 57.11%.
The President and Vice President are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a four-year term, and they can be re-elected only for a consecutive period, according to the last amendment made to the Constitution in 2002. Elections are held in years evenly divisible by four.
The Dominican Constitution takes twenty-seven paragraphs to spell out the president's extensive powers. Among the most important are those that grant him authority over virtually all appointments and removals of public officials, and even popular elected ones; empower him to promulgate the laws passed by Congress; direct him to engage in diplomatic relations; and empower him to command, to deploy, and to make appointments in, the armed forces. The president also has vast emergency powers to suspend basic rights in times of emergency, to defer the legislature, to declare a state of siege, and to rule by decree.
The 1966 Constitution provides for ministers and subcabinet ministers to assist in public administration. These officials must be Dominican citizens, at least twenty-five years of age, with full civil and political rights. The powers of the ministers are determined by law. However, the president is constitutionally responsible for the actions of his ministers. Ministers serve at the president's discretion, and function both as administrators of their ministries and as agents of presidential authority.
The armed forces participate fully in counter-narcotics efforts. They also are active in efforts to control contraband and illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from the Dominican Republic to the United States and Puerto Rico.
Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral National Congress (Congreso de la República). The upper house is the Senate (Senado) with 32 members, elected for a four year term in single-seat constituencies. The lower house is the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) with 178 members, elected for a four year term by proportional representation in accordance to each province, as follows: one deputy is elected for every 50,000 inhabitants plus fraction exceeding 25,000, but never less than two.
Among the attributions of the Senate are the following:
Congressional and municipal elections are held separately from the presidential elections. Re-election is always possible, without any limitation. The office of Senator and Deputy are incompatible with any other position or employment at the Public Administration.
The Judicial Power is charged of administering justice in order to ensure the respect, protection and supervision of rights recognized under the Constitution and laws. Its higher organ is the Supreme Court of Justice, which is composed of 16 judges appointed by the National Council of Magistrates, an entity created by the constitutional reform of 1994 to ensure the independence of the Judicial Branch.
The National Council of Magistrates is nominated by the three major political parties. It is presided by the President of the Republic and has the following members:
The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts (as a Court of Cassation) and chooses members of lower courts. It has sole jurisdiction over actions against the President, designated members of his cabinet, and members of Congress. It has administrative and financial autonomy.
Apart from working as an appeals court for all judgments rendered by judicial courts, the Supreme Court supervises all judges in the Dominican territory. Its judicial and administrative functions may be summarized as follows:
Each of the 31 provinces is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. People-elected mayors and municipal councils administer the National District (Santo Domingo) and the 103 municipal districts.
The Dominican Republic has 31 provinces (provincias) and one National District* (Distrito Nacional): Azua, Baoruco, Barahona, Dajabón, Duarte, El Seibo, Elías Piña, Espaillat, Hato Mayor, Independencia, La Altagracia, La Romana, La Vega, María Trinidad Sánchez, Monseñor Nouel, Monte Cristi, Monte Plata, Pedernales, Peravia, Puerto Plata, Hermanas Mirabal, Samaná, Sánchez Ramírez, San Cristóbal, San José de Ocoa, San Juan, San Pedro de Macorís, Santiago, Santiago Rodríguez, Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional, and Valverde.
In the 1994 elections, international observers noted many irregularities in the voter lists, and the opposition PRD immediately charged the Central Electoral Board and the PRSC with fraud. A Verification Commission appointed by the Central Electoral Board, however, did not accept the PRD's charges. By all estimates, total disenfranchised voters far exceeded the 22,281-vote margin of victory in favor of President Balaguer on 2 August 1994.
Following an intense period of political activity, the competing political parties signed a Pact for Democracy on 10 August, reducing President Balaguer's term of office from 4 to 2 years, setting early elections, and reforming the constitution. A new Central Electoral Board was named to work on electoral reform. The main candidates in 1996 were Vice President Jacinto Peynado (PRSC), José Francisco Peña Gómez (PRD), and Leonel Fernández (PLD).
Domestic and international observers saw the 1996 election as transparent and fair. After the first round in which Jacinto Peynado (PRSC) was eliminated, the PRSC with Joaquín Balaguer endorsed Leonel Fernández (PLD). Results in the second round, 45 days later on 30 June, were tabulated quickly, and although the victory margin was narrow (1.5%), it was never questioned. The transition from incumbent administration to incoming administration was smooth and ushered in a new, modern era in Dominican political life.
Fernández' political agenda was one of economic and judicial reform. He helped enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric affairs, such as the Organization of American States and the follow up to the Miami Summit. On 16 May 2000, Hipólito Mejía, the Revolutionary Democratic Party candidate, was elected president in another free and fair election. He defeated Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina 49.8% to 24.84%. Former President Balaguer garnered 24.68% of the vote. Mejia entered office on 16 August with four priorities: education reform, economic development, increased agricultural production, and poverty alleviation. Mejia also champions the cause of Central American and Caribbean economic integration and migration, particularly as it relates to Haiti. On 16 May 2004, Leonel Fernández Reyna,running on the Dominican Liberation Party, garnered about 57% of the vote. On 16 May 2008, Leonel Fernández Reyna,running on the Dominican Liberation Party, garnered about 54% of the vote for a second consecutive term in office.
Presidential elections are held in the Dominican Republic every four years, on the 16th of May. The candidate must gain a majority vote of at least 50% plus one to win the presidency in the first round. If none of the candidates obtains such majority, a second poll will take place 45 days later, at which the population will decide between the two candidates that had the best results during the first poll.