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Cablegate: Panama: Prd Postpones Internal Elections

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DE RUEHZP #0362/01 0682007
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 092007Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9955
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
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RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000362

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/08/2017
TAGS: PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: PRD POSTPONES INTERNAL ELECTIONS

Classified By: AMBASSADOR WILLIAM A. EATON. REASON: 1.4 (D)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) The Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) would
postpone its internal elections until January 2008 and its
presidential primary until October 2008, Panamanian First VP
and FM Samuel Lewis told the Ambassador on March 6. Lewis
asserted that this postponement would allow President Martin
Torrijos' administration to get important work done before
entering campaign mode. Clearly, Lewis is the biggest
beneficiary of this postponement, a fact that was not lost on
leading PRD "pre-candidates" former President Ernesto "El
Toro" Perez Balladares and current Panama City Mayor Juan
Carlos Navarro. Lewis remains Torrijos preferred successor,
as most recently evidenced by First Lady Vivian de Torrijos
characterization that Lewis would be a "fabulous"
presidential candidate. By delaying PRD's political
schedule, Torrijos has bought Lewis time and political space
to improve his standing and to get his polling numbers out of
the basement. While Perez Balladares blasted the decision as
an example of Torrijos "undemocratic" management of the PRD,
Navarro chose instead to laud Torrijos' leadership and to
question Perez Balladares' standing to make such criticisms.
While his efforts to secure the PRD's presidential nomination
are also complicated by this development, Navarro already has
strong poll numbers, needs Torrijos to block Perez
Balladares, and hopes ultimately to win over Torrijos and
secure his endorsement. End summary.

---------------------------------------------
Torrijos to Postpone PRD's Internal Elections
---------------------------------------------

2. (C) "We will start our internal election process in
January 2008," Panamanian First VP and FM Samuel Lewis told
the Ambassador on March 6, referring to the calendar to elect
new leaders for the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD). The PRD primaries for the May 2008 elections, Lewis
added, would be held in October 2008. (Note: As Secretary
General of the PRD, President Torrijos controls the PRD's
machinery, sets its agenda, and determines its schedule.)
"Those PRD members who are inside the government understand
that we have a lot of tough, and at times unpopular,
decisions to make and implement. We have a lot of things to
get done before we go into campaign mode." Those PRD members
who were outside the Administration (most pointedly meaning,
without mentioning, Perez Balladares) instead wished to move
up schedule of internal party elections so as to open the
PRD's campaign season, Lewis explained.

--------------------------------------------- -------
El Toro Blasts "PRD leaderships dictatorial methods"
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (U) The current leadership of the PRD (read: Torrijos),
is not managing the party in a democratic fashion, Perez
Balladares blasted in March 8 radio interviews. For example
in one interview, he stated, "We (the PRD) are going back to
the days following the death of General Torrijos, days in
which there was a lack of internal (party) democracy, we
heeded the pointed finger, we followed of the party line."
Perez Balladares added that he did not care who ran against
him for the Presidency of the PRD National Executive
Committee (CEN), whether it was Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos
Navarro or Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera. Asked about
Panamanian First Lady Vivian de Torrijos' comment in an
interview published March 3 in La Prensa that Lewis would
make a "fabulous" presidential candidate, Perez Balladares
dismissively commented, "Fabulous comes from the word fable,
and, for me, a fable is a story, a candidate from a dream."

------------------------------
Navarro Takes Swipe at El Toro
------------------------------

4. (U) Perez Balladares was in no position to question
Torrijos' management of the PRD, Navarro said in separate
radio interviews. "Torrijos has managed the PRD with
humility, generosity and democracy," Navarro said. Also a
declared candidate for the presidency of the PRD CEN, Navarro
stated, "I think that Perez Balladares' statements are best
understood in the context of his political campaign to
attempt to return to the leadership of the PRD."

-------
Comment
-------

4. (C) Lewis, who rarely discusses internal PRD politics,
was giddy with the news that the PRD's internal elections and
subsequent primary would be postponed and could not hold back
from sharing the news with the Ambassador. While he is
likely to remain at the MFA in the near-term, Lewis -- whose
poll numbers are abysmal -- will need to step down at some
point to start the kind of hard political work with the PRD's
bases in which Perez Balladares and Navarro have been engaged
for several months. Herrera is Torrijos' candidate to be
president of the PRD and to be the next mayor of Panama City,
something that incumbent Navarro also actively promotes. By
putting Herrera forward as his candidate for PRD president,
Torrijos hopes to knock Perez Balladares off his stride and
remove one obstacle in Lewis' path to succeed Torrijos.
Denied the PRD presidency, Perez Balladares would need to
consider seriously leaving the PRD to run as a maverick
presidential candidate, something difficult for any life-long
PRD member to contemplate and even more difficult to sell to
PRD rank and file, a skeptical opposition, and the majority
of Panamanians that are not members of any party. Navarro
will have additional time to try to win over Torrijos. To
date, we have seen no indication, contrary to Navarro's
assertions, that Navarro will be Torrijos' preferred
candidate. The First Lady's interview underscored Torrijos
preference for Lewis.
Eaton

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