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Opposition Leads in Dominican Vote

May 18, 1998

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ A crushing election defeat spurred by the death of an opposition leader has left President Leonel Fernandez facing two years under the thumb of political rivals.

The Dominican Revolutionary Party _ whose leader, Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, died last week _ won 24 of 30 Senate seats and at least 100 of 149 seats in the lower house, the Central Elections Board said Sunday after counting 67 percent of the 2.7 million ballots cast.

Such a result in Saturday’s vote would give the leftist party and the conservative Social Christian Reformist Party a strong say in government, with the power to easily override any presidential veto through a required two-thirds majority in both houses.

Since winning the presidency in 1996, Fernandez has already been frustrated in attempts to pass economic measures and constitutional reforms, including an effort to eliminate a one-term limit on the presidency.

Fernandez tried to put the loss in the best light, saying the elections ``contribute to the promotion of a more diverse political leadership in the sense that now the congressional candidates are not tied to the presidential candidacies.″

Thousands of Revolutionary Party supporters celebrated by gathering at the Christ the Redeemer Cemetery near the capital of Santo Domingo on Sunday to lay flowers at Pena Gomez’s grave.

``Pena Gomez died knowing that we were going to have this victory,″ Party Secretary-General Hatuey Decamps said. ``He didn’t get to see it crystallize, but he was happy.″

Mourners filed by the above-ground tomb, some kneeling to pray, others lighting candles under the party’s blue-and-white flag.

Peggy Cabral, Pena Gomez’s widow and the apparent vice mayor-elect of Santo Domingo, broke down in tears before her late husband’s grave.

The main cathedral in the colonial section of Santo Domingo held its seventh of nine special masses for Pena Gomez, part of the tradition of the ``novena,″ a nine-day mourning period observed in the Dominican Republic.

The Revolutionary Party also won most of 115 mayoral races, including the capital Santo Domingo, where merengue singer Johnny Ventura, who replaced Pena Gomez as the party’s candidate, won 61 percent.

Fernandez had hoped to preserve his veto power by winning at least one-third of the seats in Congress. His Liberation Party _ which held just 14 of 120 seats in the House and one of 30 in the Senate before the election _ was expected to win three Senate seats and an undetermined number of house seats, officials said.

A recent census boosted the number of seats in the new lower house to 149.

The Social Christian Reformist Party of former President Joaquin Balaguer ran a less organized campaign, and the elections board said it would win only two Senate seats.

Analysts attributed the relatively low turnout _ about 60 percent of 4.1 million registered voters, compared to above 80 percent for presidential elections _ to the fact that Saturday was the first time legislative races were held separately from the presidential contest.

Update hourly