President Leonel Fernandez swept to a third term

Santo Domingo.– President Leonel Fernandez declared victory early Saturday in the Dominican Republic's election and pledged to continue pushing forward economic projects that have helped pull the country out of a deep economic slump.

Fernandez had 53.55 percent of the vote, or 1,992,290 votes out of the 3,679, 834 million counted as of Saturday morning, the Central Electoral Commission said. The commission had not yet declared him the winner, however.

The former New Yorker needs to win at least 50 percent of votes to avoid a run-off. Fernandez said that he interpreted his apparent victory as a renewal of confidence in the Dominican Liberation Party. He said he would continue revitalizing the economy as he has done throughout his most recent term.

His main rival, center-left construction magnate Miguel Vargas, said he accepted and recognized the results. He received 41 percent of the vote, while populist candidate Amable Aristy led a batch of other challengers to hold third place with less than 5 percent.

The victory makes Fernandez the first Dominican president to be re-elected since the country's last strongman, Joaquin Balaguer, was ousted 12 years ago, showing many voters have overcome hesitations about long-serving politicians in a country with a painful history of iron-fisted rule.

In his victory speech, Fernandez invited Dominicans to take part in a short-lived party over the weekend, but roll up their sleeves and be ready get back to work on Monday.