President Joaquin Balaguer's promise late Thursday night that results of Tuesday's election would be respected was widely interpreted here yesterday as an indication that the three-term president had accepted defeat.
The vote count, interrupted earlier by military forces when opposition candidate Antonio Guzman appeared to be winning, proceeded uneventfully in the capital, although there were reports of continuing military interference in provincial cities.
The military occupation of vote counting centers had triggered rumors of a coup to keep Balaguer in power and strong expressions of disapproval from the U.S. government, including a strong statement yesterday by President Carter.
Balaguer's televised speech - presented at 11:30 p.m. with barely an hour's notice - ended almost two days of presidential silence over the confusing and chaotic series of events that began here when troops entered the election committee's headquarters early Wednesday morning.
Yesterday's government order for troop withdrawal from Electoral Commission offices was apparently obeyed in Santo Domingo. But Commission officials said they were investigating reports that soldiers in areas outside the capital, who apparently had not gotten the message that the military intervention in the election had been called off, were jailing election officials and threatening their lives if they did not falsify returns in favor of Balaguer and his Reformist Party.
Based on past experience, including a number of coups in the early 1960s, and a 1965 civil war followed by U.S. Marine occupation, many Dominicans remained suspicious of the armed forces' intentions and concerned about Balaguer's ability to control them.
Throughout the electoral campaign, the military made no secret of its support for Balaguer, a conservative whose administration has been accused of large-scale corruption, with high-level military officials allegedly skimming most of the profits.
"I just can't see the military ever accepting Guzman as president," said one long-time observer of Dominican politics.
"You have to suspend logic to understand what happens in this country," said one young Dominican. "Force takes precedence over reason here."
Like many of his countrymen, this Dominican remained skeptical aboaut U.S. pressure on Balaguer to permit an honest vote count.
"Look," he said, "If you want my opinion, when they planned the coup, they probably forgot to consult the U.S. Embassy and that's why it failed."
Despite widespread belief here that the United States practically runs this country, which has been occupied twice by U.S. Marines, U.S. diplomats were apparently totally cut off from the Dominican government once the trouble began.
Both Ambassador Robert L. Yost, who arrived in the country less than a month ago, and U.S. military attaches were left cooling their heels when they showed up at government offices to express U.S. concern over the interruption of the vote count Wednesday.
Yost, who waited two hours outside Balaguer's residence, was told by an aide that the president was sleeping. Another official told him Balaguer was "taking a bath" and could not see him.
In his speech Thursday night, Balaguer denounced "interference" from "friendly countries in our own Americas" who threatened to: "interrupt supposed aid" if the situation is not stabilized.
In a press conference yesterday, opposition candidate Guzman said Balaguer's speech had calmed the tense political situation, and said that Balaguer had "admitted our triumph (and) admitted that the Reformist Party has lost the election."
While the Electoral Commission said it would be several days before final returns were in, several officials said privately that the count so far showed a 2-to-1 lead by Guzman's Dominican Revolutionary Party, and predicted a strong opposition victory.
Informed observers, both Dominican and foreign, said Balaguer spent two days of indecision before Thursday night's speech. Deeply wounded by what they termed the "landslide" vote against him, he was reportedly exhorted by leaders of some military factions to prevent Guzman - a left-of-center moderate - from taking over.
At the same time, Balaguer was under intense domestic and foreign pressure to respect the laws of what has been described as a "model" Caribbean democracy.
Much of the opposition vote appeared to be more anti-Balaguer than pro-Guzman, and experienced political observers here said many Dominicans were simply tired of the 12-year Balaguer administration and the alleged military rake-off of the country's income.
The military intervention and subsequence events, including both parties' claims of victory - supposedly based on the same set of returns - began to take on comic opera aspects Thursday. Even traditionally strong Balaguer supporters expressed outrage and shame over the situation.
Local newspapers Thursday and yesterday were filled with full-page paid advertisements from conservative businessmen and civic groups calling on the president to return the electoral process to normal.
Balaguer never actually admitted defeat in his speech, but he made several pledges to uphold the constitution and respect the will of the people which were interpreted as meaning he would permit an honest vote count.
In an explanation of the first military intervention in the vote count, Balaguer said an "army lieutenant, concerned over rumors of a supposed coup," had ordered the shutdown at Electoral Commission headquarters on his own.
Asked about Balaguer's version, Electoral Commission President Manuel Joaquin Castillo said he had no idea where the president "got it."
Witnesses at the commission headquarters that morning said that a lieutenant had indeed given the order. They said that when he was questioned, the officer said he was acting on "superior orders." It appeared to most observers that the coup rumors began only after the military action.
Castillo, a widely respected attorney and judge, had emerged as the hero of this Dominican crisis because of his refusal to back up government explanations of irregular incidents.