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Dominican Republic Alters Term Law

July 14, 2002

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Dominican lawmakers voted Saturday to reform the country’s constitution to allow presidents to serve two consecutive terms in office.

A single-term limit was adopted in 1994, after the Dominican Revolutionary Party proposed it as a restraint on the power of then-President Joaquin Balaguer, who was elected to a sixth term in 1994 elections marred by fraud.

Now, with President Hipolito Mejia of the Revolutionary Party in power, his supporters were the main backers of eliminating the limit of a single four-year term, despite his own support of the restriction. Mejia says he won’t seek a second term in 2004.

Senators and representatives in the Caribbean country approved the measure by a vote of 112 to 48 during a special constitutional assembly, surpassing the required two-thirds majority.

Saturday’s vote was the final stage in passage of the reform, which is now official.

The change received the needed support through an alliance of Mejia’s party, Balaguer’s Reformist Social Christian Party and other smaller parties. Officials in Balaguer’s party said the former president _ who has been hospitalized for more than a week due to a bleeding ulcer _ had instructed party members to back the reform.

Presidents will be limited to serving two terms under the changes.

The assembly also decided to simplify the electoral system so that voters would not need to register twice to cast ballots _ a requirement that some said had confused voters and dissuaded them from going to the polls.

Legislators have yet to vote on a third proposal to allow a presidential candidate to win an election with less than 50 percent of the vote. The change would eliminate second-round elections, which now are automatically called when no candidate wins 50 percent. Debate on that measure was postponed until Monday.

The opposition Dominican Liberation Party voted against all reforms, saying the changes appeared designed to benefit its backers.

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