The executive had long been the dominant branch in the Dominican governmental system. The president's powers derived from his supreme authority over national administration, the armed forces, and all public affairs. In addition, the president was the beneficiary of the worldwide trends toward centralized decision making and increased executive dominance. Television and other forms of modern mass communications also focused greater attention on the president. The political culture of the Dominican Republic, with its emphasis on machismo and strong leadership, reinforced this tendency to make the president the focal point of the political system. Not surprisingly, Dominican presidents traditionally had been dominant, charismatic, forceful personalities.
The Constitution vests executive power in a president who is elected by direct popular vote and whose term of office is four years. There is no prohibition against a president's seeking reelection, but since the electoral defeat of Balaguer in 1978, presidents had limited themselves to one term. The Constitution requires that presidential candidates be Dominican citizens by birth or origin, at least thirty years old, and in possession of all political and civil rights. A candidate cannot have been a member of the military, or the police, for at least one year prior to his election. Vice presidential candidates must meet the same qualifications.
The vice president may assume the office of president when the chief executive is ill, outside the country, or otherwise unable to perform his duties. If the president dies, or becomes permanently unable to carry out the functions of his office, the vice president serves until the next scheduled election. If the vice president is also unable to fill the office, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice (who is chosen by the Senate) serves temporarily. Within fifteen days, he must convene the National Assembly (which consists of both houses of the Congress of the Republic), which must then select a substitute to fill out the term.
The Dominican Constitution takes twenty-seven paragraphs to spell out the president's extensive powers. Among the most important are those that grant him authority over virtually all appointments and removals of public officials; empower him to promulgate the laws passed by Congress; direct him to engage in diplomatic relations; and empower him to command, to deploy, and to make appointments in, the armed forces. The president also has vast emergency powers to suspend basic rights in times of emergency, to prorogue the Congress, to declare a state of siege, and to rule by decree. Historically, the exercise of these emergency powers usually had been the prelude to dictatorship.
The few limitations the Constitution places on presidential authority focus primarily on the requirement to secure congressional consent to certain appointments, treaty negotiations, entry into certain contracts, and the exercise of emergency powers. These provisions put no more thana limited check on presidential authority, however, because the Dominican voting system almost automatically guarantees the president a majority of his followers in Congress. The Dominican courts also offer little impediment to the exercise of executive power, mainly because they lack the power of judicial review.
The 1966 Constitution provides for ministers and subcabinet ministers to assist in public administration. These officials must be Dominican citizens, at least twenty-five years of age, with full civil and political rights. The powers of the ministers are determined by law; they are not set forth in the Constitution. However, the president is constitutionally responsible for the actions of his ministers. Ministers serve at the president's discretion, can be removed by him, and function both as administrators of their ministries and as agents of presidential authority.
In a system as heavily weighted toward the executive as the Dominican one, the force of a president's personality can do much to determine his relative success or failure in office. Trujillo, the dictator, was tough and forceful; Bosch, the democrat, was weak and ineffectual. Balaguer, although he appeared meek in public, proved to be a very shrewd politician.
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