Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to vote in the Dominican Republic

This will be a long post, as voting in the DR isn’t quite as easy as getting a piece of paper and marking an x in the box. Not by a long way.

The first stage is that you have to be registered to vote. Unlike in some other countries where you receive a letter at the address where you live which you have to send back and then you are added to the electoral roll, where you actually live here has nothing to do with where you vote.

Every adult Dominican has a cedula or identity card which also doubles as a voting card. This is normally issued in the place where you lived when you were 18 and applied for your first cedula and it actually has on it the place you have to vote. When it comes to voting day you either have to return to the address on your cedula to vote, or you change your address. However, the first (of dozens) of voting scams is for the candidate in a particular area to ask all his or her friends or relatives to change the address on their cedulas so they can vote for them.

The new biometric cedula

Unfortunately, when you change address, you obviously have to give an address to the Electoral Office and most just say the High Street in whatever place. It became obvious by the middle of last year that the High Street in certain towns, Pedernales in the south west for example, had been invaded by hundreds of people and in fact most lived in one house, 100, High Street which was a two bedroom house with over 100 people moving in! So by around the middle of last year no one was allowed to change their address on their cedulas to put a stop to that.

The electoral roll is called the padron and has all the names from cedulas. It has apparently been cross referenced against death certificates so should have no dead people on it – but it will of course have all those who died and whose deaths were not registered and all of those who are living abroad, unless they changed their address at the time. This year there are 7,065,817 registered on the padrón and for the first time people will be voting for the president of the country, the senator for the province (32 of those), the deputies for each province (depends on size of province as to how many) and the mayors of each municipality along with the councilors for each municipality. Previously the voting for president happened separately.

So, how will it work on voting day?

There are voting stations around the country, usually but not always situated in local schools. Each voting station has what is called a mesa (table) and this is staffed by local people who are a selection from each party so they can keep an eye on the others for any funny business – which often happens. Each of the candidates will be working flat out to get their supporters to the voting stations as many do not have transport. Buses are rented (each has to have a security guard to stop the opposition voters getting a free ride), motorbikes zoom around picking people up as do cars. Many voters have to be encouraged to come and vote - usually financially. It is a dramatic scramble all day long getting everyone to the relevant voting station – even harder in rural areas with a lack of transport.

However, previously, as this was going on, the opposition would do everything to stop their rivals getting to vote. The easiest way was to buy their cedula as without that they could not vote. The price goes up as the day goes on and it becomes clear who might be in the lead. Canny Dominicans would get a new cedula before voting day came around, with replacements issued free of charge, saying they had lost theirs, so they had one to sell on the day. The price to sell a cedula can be US$100 or more which for most is a lot of money. Once sold not only could that person not vote but the person who bought it could use the cedula and pretend it was them and vote for the person they supported. Once a person entered the voting station, they would hand over the cedula and it would just be checked against the padron without looking too closely at the owner of the cedula.

This year the Electoral Court stopped issuing replacement cedulas months ago so that stopped that ruse, and even better, the new cedulas are biometric and have the owner’s finger print, so no more trying to pretend to be someone else. However, cedulas will still be bought to stop people from voting - it is a choice, you vote for the person you want who may may your life better over the four year term or you gain around US$100 immediately - a simple choice for many.

Once the voter arrives at the voting station it is time to vote, and it is anything but simple. There are three boletas or voting forms. One for the president, one for senators and deputies and one for mayor. Each has a photo of the person to help those who can’t read but every single party is represented and given all the alliances this year you not only mark your cross on who you want as president but also the party they are allied to.

Here is the one for President

This is the actual boleta and has now gone to print. As you can see the same face appears time and time again - President Danilo Medina is in many boxes as is the opposition candidate Luis Abinader. This is because each box is a different party and only a few have their own presidential candidate. So you choose your party and the candidate - but they must be in the same box.

Here the sample for Senators and Deputies

This isn't ready to print yet as they are still discussing who will stand in some areas. As you can see it is much more complicated.

And here the sample for mayors and councilors.

My husband, Danilo will be in box number 19 as that the the party number, PLR and as you can see on the president one, the PLR is also supporting Danilo Medina as president also in box number 19. So on the face of it, the electorate just have to remember the number 19 - which is my birth date so not too hard.

Now, you have to be careful where you mark your X as if it is in the wrong place the vote is null. The vote is also null if the ballot paper is written on, or has a stain on it, if it isn’t signed and stamped, if there are too many crosses or if the voting intention is unclear. All that needs to happen is one of the officials at the table spills a bit of coffee on each one and Bob’s your Uncle – not valid.

Previously, once the voting station was closed, the staff manually counted the votes and filled in what were called Actas, which were then transmitted to the Central Electoral Court. Here is an Acta.

Of course at this stage if their maths was dodgy then anything could happen and everything was hand written, usually in pencil. As you can see from this one below, crossings out and changing figures was very common, When husband Danilo ran last time there were 75 people registered to vote in one particular area, but 81 people voted – even dead people and six unknown people who weren't on the padron.

This time, when people go into vote they have to first use a machine to check their fingerprint and that brings up a copy of their cedula so the person at the desk can check they are the right person. (Yay).

They then complete the ballot papers and those are scanned into a machine and the data kept centrally so all being well, this time there should be much less opportunity for fraud.(Double yay).

The Central Electoral Court says that all the results should be available by midnight. Before you ask, the machines all have back up batteries for when the electricity goes out as with all this technology that could be a disaster.

I must admit this is a major improvement on the previous system and my Danilo is busy running hundreds of training sessions to teach people how to vote. I am sure there will be all sorts of shenanigans as usual, but there should be less. All I know is that on May 15 I will be sitting here in the mountains with bated breath, and maybe a little bottle of rum, waiting for the results.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Cats and Belinda

Life is not getting any easier at the moment unfortunately.

Having depressed you all with the stories of the unfortunate chickens, this blog continues with the cats.

I have had up to 12 cats at one stage but we are now down to only three. The others have departed this life through a whole series of unfortunate and some violent ends over the past 15 years. Some were barbecued for supper by Haitians, one fell down a well, some have died of cancer, one was shot with a 12 bore shotgun as the man did not like him playing with his chickens, one was run over, some were ripped to bits by the dogs, several were poisoned and a few went out one day and never returned so their end is unknown.

Of the three left, Zebedee is the least trouble. He is 14 years old now, son of Matilda and was one of a pair of twins – Zebedee 1 and Zebedee 2. They were inseparable, but number 1 went out a year or so ago and never came back. Zebedee spends his day on the bits of the balcony which are still standing or toasting himself on the satellite TV box when it is switched on.

Zebedee 1

His mother, Matilda is still with us, aged 15 having survived moves all around the country but she is now suffering from the feline equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. She forgets where she is when she wakes up and emits a blood curdling howl until you explain to her that all is OK. This happens every couple of hours or so, 24 hours a day. She eats her lunch then forgets she has eaten it, and wants food five minutes later. Her latest trick is to sleep on top of the kitchen cupboards, near the ceiling, safe from the boisterous puppies, and then she rolls over and falls off. Somehow she always manages to land on her feet so far.

Matilda with her best mate Belinda

The third member of the feline clan is Mariposa, a tiny grey cat, who is three. She was a happy little bunny until a month ago when she was chased by puppy Grita Mucho into the woods and high up a tree. Now she refuses to leave upstairs and has to be fed there. She has managed to get outside sometimes as you hear a thump out on the dodgy balcony and realize she has jumped out of a bedroom window, but then she has to run the gauntlet of the puppies to get back upstairs again. Danilo put a tree trunk up against the upstairs balcony for her to use but she seems as unimpressed with his attempt at a cat escape mechanism as I was.

Mariposa sleeping in the egg bowl on top of the eggs

The one dog the cats all adore is Belinda, the Great Dane, but that is no more.

I knew she had some sort of heart condition as a couple of weeks ago her heart was beating very fast all of the time, she looked to be losing weight even though eating well and her breathing was fast and labored. Google advised me that it was probably congestive heart failure, common in Danes even though she was only four years old, and suggested a diuretic to get rid of the fluid buildup in her lungs. She had been on the tablets for three days and was perfectly fine. Eating well, leaping over the furniture, playing with the puppies, barking at the neighbours and anything which moved outside. Yesterday afternoon, around 4 ish, she was playing with the puppies as usual, fell over, screamed and was dead. It was over in seconds. I tried CPR but to no avail and kept looking at her to see if maybe she had just fainted - but no.

Belinda helping clean the dishes

I then had to decide what to do with a 130 pound dead Great Dane in the middle of my living room. I called one of my neighbours on the phone and she answered but wasn’t home and told me to go and find her husband – he is the one who used to have the brain tumour. I called Danilo although I don’t know what I expected him to do, and understandably he said go for help to bury her. I locked the other dogs up as no neighbour comes near the house when they are loose and went for help. Two of the neighbours offered to come and help and said as they were elderly they would need a third pair of hands, so off I went to find a third, Berto, who took a little persuading but agreed to come. As I went to find him I noticed ex brain tumour man legging it on his motorbike. When I went back to the two elderly men, one had left, also on his motorbike and the other one, who doesn’t have many teeth, said he had to leave to go to church or something. I bgged him to stay and he shouted Berto who appeared and I took them round to the back of the house with the wheelbarrow. We would have to get Belinda down 10 steps and then wheel her about 800 metres to the dip in the garden which is the animal cemetery.

Problem one was the wheelbarrow had a puncture and was useless. Problem two is they refused to touch her and I wasn’t strong enough to lift her. I offered to try and put her in a few large empty dog food bags, thick plastic and they said no they couldn’t even touch her through plastic and they needed a rope. I had no idea where we had a rope,  so off they went into the garden and came back with palm leaves which they made into a rope, got me to put it around her head with like a long lead, and then they dragged her. They dragged her out of the living room, bounced her carefully down the steps and then dragged her through her adored garden all the way to the dip further down - the two of them walking ahead and Belinda being pulled behind them. They returned quickly and said they had left her there but not actually buried her, so I steeled myself for the task later as there was no way I felt like doing it straight away.

Belinda checking out her territory (before the balcony collapsed)

Danilo had called the boys – my stepsons, unbeknown to me and they turned up about 30 minutes later and went and buried her properly which I was very relieved about.

Belinda looking after Meg's pups

She was a fabulous dog and well loved and I thank her for not putting me through days, weeks or even months of watching her deteriorate as her heart became worse. The house is deadly quiet, I am not sure how long it will take the puppies to start wreaking havoc again mind – at the moment they have been silent since she died.

A major tea towel thief
I was often one to say, “I don’t know what I will do if anything happens to xyz cat or dog,” but now I know. It is very sad but I have learned that I can cope alone if a dog has a heart attack and dies in front of me, it will not always be in an antiseptic vet’s office and you will not always have anyone with you.  I can cope if I am alone and have to deal with the situation, and if I did not have help as I did this time, I know that I can make a rope out of palm leaves and drag a dog through the garden to their grave. You think "I can't," then you realise "I can," and then you can say "and I did".

Belinda had friends from all over the world, several have been sending me pictures of her and messages which I am also very grateful for.  And Danilo, in his Dominican way, said last night, it is past. It is finished, no need to be sad any more. Dominicans have this amazing way of just keeping on trucking.

Talking about Danilo, 42 days to go and the JCE site have fixed their second hand! He is still doing well and a recent online poll put him well in the lead. 

They spelled his name wrong - hope that doesn't happen this time around, but here is praying he gets the same results on the day, And now he has Belinda rooting for him from on high which I know is bound to help.