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Santo Domingo: democracy gets lift

The Dominican Republic's fragile democracy was given a boost this week in presidential balloting that saw social democrat Salvador Jorge Blanco emerge with a virtual majority in a field of five candidates.

The balloting inched the Dominican Republic further away from the dictatorship that so dominated Dominican life for much of this century.

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But the threat of dictatorship, of a new military takeover, hovered ominously over the Jorge Blanco victory.

The President-elect, who quickly gained the lead in the slow ballot count, is not liked by some elements of the Army -- and there have been rumors for weeks that a military coup was in the making.

Incumbent President Silvestre Antonio Guzman Fernandez -- who, like Jorge Blanco, is a member of the Dominican Revolutionary Party -- spoke out recently against any military moves to disrupt the electoral process and the winner's assumption of office.

Mr. Guzman Fernandez himself faced such a threat in 1978 -- and only the combined efforts of the United States and former President Joaquin Balaguer, defeated by Mr. Guzman that year's election, kept the Army from stepping in.

Whether similar restraints can be placed on the military this time -- if military commanders decide to move -- remains to be seen. The US under Ronald Reagan is thought to be less committed to Dominican democracy than it was under Jimmy Carter. And former President Balaguer, one of Jorge Blanco's rivals in this election, is thought to have less influence over the Army than four years ago.

Many Army officers resent Jorge Blanco's reformist ideas and moderately socialist views. He is expected to try to move the Dominican Republic toward West European-style socialism. But it is unlikely he will exercise a heavy hand against the capitalist economic structure that Dr. Balaguer nurtured in his 1966 -68 presidency, and which Mr. Guzman continues.

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