Dominican Republic President steps aside to bolster democracy

Silvestre Antonio Guzman Fernandez's decision not to seek a second term as president of the Dominican Republic rises from his desire to strengthen Dominican democracy.

But the move is a real test for that democracy.

Mr. Guzman's action is the first voluntary surrender of presidential power in the Caribbean nation's 137-year history and opens the door to a potentially divisive power struggle within his Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD).

Moreover, it heightens the possibility that former President Joaquin Balaguer , will stage a comeback. He served for the 12 years immediately preceding Mr. Guzman's victory in 1978 balloting.

Dr. Balaguer has made no secret of his desire to return to the presidency. But observers say he has been reluctant to stage a rematch with Mr. Guzman because of the current President's popularity. With Mr. Guzman stepping aside, Dr. Balaguer may make his move.

Announcing his decision over nationwide radio and television June 29, Mr. Guzman said his choice as successor is Vice-President Jacobo Majluta Azar, a strong figure within the PRD. Mr. Majluta has won high marks as vice-president but may face stiff opposition from within the party, particularly from Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, the PRD's secretary-general.

PRD political machinery is in the hands of Mr. Pena Gomez and he has long been regarded as a strong presidential contender.

Both Mr. Majluta and Mr. Pena Gomez have been in politics for two decades, with Vice-President Majluta serving in a variety of government jobs over the years. Both suffered arrest and deportation in the 1960s for their roles in the PRD.

Elections are scheduled for May 1982. The PRD and Dr. Balaguer's Partido Reformista will hold nominating conventions next October.

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