Once ruled by Spain, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, a former French colony.
The Caribbean nation is a major tourist destination. This, coupled with free-trade zones, has become the country's major employer and key sources of revenue, replacing dependence on sugar, coffee and other exports.
The Dominican Republic is inhabited mostly by people of mixed European and African origins. Western influence is seen in the colonial buildings of the capital, Santo Domingo, as well as in art and literature. African heritage is reflected in music. The two heritages blend in the popular song and dance, the merengue.
Rapid economic development in the 1990s has increased national wealth and diversified employment opportunities, helping the country to rebound from the global market downturn of 2008, but a large gap remains in the distribution of wealth.
The richest 10% of the population, overwhelmingly the white descendants of Spanish settlers, own most of the land and benefit from 40% of national icome. The poorest peasants are people of African descent - including an estimated 800,000 of Haitian immigrant origin.
Distrust has soured relations between the Dominican Republic and its troubled neighbour, Haiti, and the government has carried out mass deportations of Haitian immigrants at various times.
The Dominican Republic is closely tied to the United States, its largest trading partner by far and home to a major diaspora. Remittances from US Dominicans account for up to 10% of national income.
The candidate of the governing Dominican Liberation Party, Danilo Medina, won the closely-fought presidential contest of May 2012 against former president Hipolito Mejia. The outgoing president, Leonel Fernandez, had served the maximum permitted two consecutive terms and so could not stand again.
President-elect Danilo Medina
Born in 1950, Danilo Medina became a student activist for the social-democratic Dominican Revolutionary Party, and followed its leader, opposition leader Juan Bosch, into the Liberation Party in 1973. The party, initially to the left of the Revolutionary Party, moved steadily to the centre in the 1990s.
Mr Medina was elected to Congress and served as its president in 1994-95, playing a major role in defusing a constitutional crisis and bringing to a close the era of veteran authoritarian president Joaquin Balaguer.
He served as chief of staff to the Liberation Party leader Leonel Fernandez during his presidential terms in the 1990s and again in 2004-06, and stood as Liberation Party candidate in the 2000 presidential election, losing to Hipolito Mejia.
He fell out with President Fernandez in 2006 when the latter beat him in the Liberation Party primaries for the presidential election of 2008. Mr Medina alleged that the president had thrown the resources of the state into the campaign, and played no part in President Fernandez's final administration.
Mr Medina secured Liberation Party nomination for the 2012 election, and his narrow win over Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Revolutionary Party consolidated Liberation Party rule - the party controls both houses of Congress.
Mr Medina will have to contend with the persistently high unemployment and poverty rates that his predecessor's otherwise successful economic policies have failed to overcome.
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