May 11, 2008 / 2:48 PM / 12 years ago

FACTBOX-Dominican Republic conducts election

May 11 (Reuters) - President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic is expected to win re-election on May 16 when the tourism-dependent Caribbean country goes to the polls.

Here are some facts about the Dominican Republic.

POPULATION: 9.5 million. Ethnically, mostly a mixture of European and African origin.

LANGUAGE: Spanish.

RELIGION: 95 percent Roman Catholic.

CAPITAL: Santo Domingo (population 2.25 million).

GEOGRAPHY: 18,800 square miles (48,690 square km) forming the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti.

GOVERNMENT: Constitutional republic with a president and a bicameral legislature, both of which serve four-year terms.

ARMED FORCES: Army - 20,000 active-duty personnel. Air Force - operates two main bases, one in the southern region near Santo Domingo and one in the northern region near Puerto Plata. Navy — operates two major naval bases and maintains 12 operational vessels.

ECONOMY: Gross Domestic Product - $36.05 billion (2006 figures). Per-capita GDP - $3,850. The total external debt was estimated at $8.8 billion in 2007.

Long viewed mainly as an exporter of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, in recent years the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the Dominican Republic’s largest employer because of growth in tourism and free-trade zones.

The economy depends heavily on the United States, the destination of nearly three-quarters of its exports. Remittances represent about 10 percent of GDP, equivalent to nearly half of exports and three-quarters of tourism receipts. A large number of tourists come from Europe.

HISTORY: The capital Santo Domingo is the oldest Spanish colonial settlement in the Americas, dating from 1496. France and Spain intermittently swapped control of Hispaniola until Santo Domingo became independent in 1865.

The United States occupied the country from 1916 until 1924, when an elected government took over. It was overthrown, however, by Gen. Rafael Trujillo, who ruled with a brutal hand until his assassination in 1961.

Leftist Juan Bosch was elected in elections in December 1962 but he was overthrown in a coup the following September.

In 1965, civil war broke out between leftist and rightist factions. In April 1965, the United States under President Lyndon Johnson intervened.

In 1966, former president Joaquin Balaguer, a Trujillo associate, was re-elected. He won office again in 1970 and 1974 but lost in 1978. Blending authoritarianism with paternalism, Balaguer became the dominant figure in politics in the Dominican Republic up to the end of the century.

In 1984, tough measures introduced by then-President Salvador Jorge Blanco to stabilize the economy, including wage freezes and the removal of food subsidies, sparked riots that killed 86 people.

Discontent allowed Balaguer to take office again in 1986. In 1990, Balaguer won a tightly contested election by a margin of only a few thousand votes, and rivals alleged fraud.

There also were allegations of fraud after elections in 1994 that Balaguer won. Under pressure, the aging president agreed to a shortened term. He was unable to run when new elections were conducted in 1996 but his backing gave current President Leonel Fernandez his first win.

In 2000, Hipolito Mejia was elected president.

In May 2004, Fernandez was re-elected president, defeating Mejia, whose term had seen the Dominican Republic plunge into a deep economic slump after the collapse of a major bank.

Sources: Reuters/Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook/U.S. State Department/World Bank (Writing by Paul Grant, Washington Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Bill Trott)

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