Dominican Republic's fragile democracy survives leader's death

The Dominican Republic's fragile democracy, sorely tested in recent years, has been hit again - but apparently has survived.

This time, it was the unexpected death of President Silvestre Antonio Guzman Fernandez, who was scheduled to step down Aug. 16 and turn the presidency over to his elected successor, Salvador Jorge Blanco.

The transition was to be a landmark in Dominican history, marking the first time ever that a Dominican president served out his single term and gave the sash of office to his successor.

Dominican history has been tormented by frequent coups, long-term dictatorships, and political disturbances. Mr. Guzman wanted to change that image. He probably had the support of the majority of Dominicans in this effort.

President for almost four years, Mr. Guzman went into office promising not to seek a second term - and stuck to it. During late 1981, while debate swirled around this year's presidential election, President Guzman reminded Dominicans of his promise. He refused all efforts by some members of his Partido Revolucionario Dominicano to get him to renege and run.

Following Mr. Guzman's death July 4, which some regard a suicide, Vice-President Jacobo Majluta Azar was sworn in as president - and he promised to serve merely until Aug. 16 when Mr. Jorge Blanco takes over.

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