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Despite widespread cynicism from civil society organizations that the Dominican Republic’s general election would be yet another stich up by the long-standing centrist party, the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD), this period in May 2016 provided a great opportunity for online activism by journalists and citizens.
Building on a model devised in the Spanish elections (Poletika.org/es), Oxfam initiated an online campaign for activists to track and monitor the discourse of presidential candidates, and through this, exert pressure on them to put citizen’s rights and issues of inequality at the center of their manifestos.
Working with partners and civil society groups, we created a platform of 16 organizations, agreeing the focus of our campaign. Monitoring indicators were established and responsibility for interacting with candidates equally shared. Achieving clarity of purpose from the outset was essential and the means by which our messages would be heard, in a context of a history of chaotic processes and lack of democratic accountability in previous elections.
Our short video featured ordinary people asking the question: Para Qué? – For What? Why are we voting? What are politics for? We all have the right to raise our voice and change public policy. Leading public figures – journalists, teachers, artists – supported our initiative, and as momentum built, more than 100 influential figures publicly endorsed the campaign – following our posts on Twitter. With well over 1,000 followers on Twitter alone, we were able to reach over 35,000 people, trending six times in the country, and each time for over six hours.
We jointly monitored speeches, plans and actions – capturing the commitments of candidates and summarizing these in social media posts. Alliance building with online and print media outlets and organizers of presidential debates enabled us to achieve the cut through we needed to question candidates and hold them to account for their election promises.
As expected the election was chaotic with corruption and irregularities making it difficult for people to trust the legitimacy of Danilo Medina’s comfortable win. In congress and at a local level, the status quo hardly changed, with the PLD maintaining its hold on power. Despite this outcome, we established Oxfam as an organization with the skills, experience and leverage to coordinate and build diverse networks through which citizen’s voices can be heard. We will continue our influencing efforts in the Dominican Republic, working alongside partners and civil society organizations to provide the means and space for citizens to stand up for their rights and fight extreme equality.