Cablegate: Panama Post: 7th Edition -- Special Polling


DE RUEHZP #0181/01 0592032
R 282032Z FEB 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000181



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/28/2018


Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons:
1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (C) Panama City broad sheet daily La Prensa stirred the
political pot with the release of its latest installment of
its "Pulse of Nation" poll series on February 22. Democratic
Change presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli extended and
even increased somewhat his lead as the opposition's
preferred option. Meanwhile, Minister of Housing Balbina
Herrera, despite her strong assertions that she does not want
to run for president (now), accelerated her lead and was far
and away the preferred presidential candidate for the
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD). Herrera's
position at the top of the PRD poll contributed to a new
round of speculation as to what her true political intentions
were: to run for Mayor of Panama City or to run for
President. Nobody was probably pondering that issue more
than current Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro whom Herrera continues
to pledge to support for the presidency. Most analysts
concur that the PRD scenario will not be clearer until after
that party's March 9 convention, and that the opposition
scenario will not be clearer until there is more definition
in the internal Panamenista race.

Employment Most Serious Problem

2. (U) Employment continued to top voters' list as the most
serious problem confronting Panama, but the percentage
indicating this concern has fallen steadily over the past two
years: 26.6 percent in January 2008; 41.8 percent in January
2007 and 56.5 percent in January 2006. In second place,
voters cited the cost of living as the most significant
concern exploding over the past three years from 0.6 percent
in 2006 and 7.3 percent in 2007 to 22.3 percent in 2008.
Insecurity rolled in at third place with more than twice as
many voters citing insecurity as the most significant problem
in January 2008 (14.1 percent) over January 2007 (6.7
percent); the total in January 2006 was 2.9 percent.
Juvenile violence, corruption, public transport, health,
crime/drugs, and social security were also cited as major
concerns, though largely unchanged over the past three years
and generally under 6 percent of the population citing them
as concerns.

3. (U) Asked to cite what should be the top three priorities
for the government that would be elected in 2009, the results
were as follows:

Fighting unemployment/generating new sources of jobs: 18.9
Fighting crime/ensuring greater security: 13.6 percent
High cost of living and basic basket of goods: 11.8 percent
Being sincere and honest: 8.7 percent
Healthcare and social security: 6.8 percent
Helping the public well-being and those most in need: 4.3
Being a leader: 4.2 percent
Corruption: 3.8 percent
Education: 3.3 percent

Torrijos Losses Ground

4. (U) More prospective voters evaluated President Torrijos'
performance as bad or very bed and fewer evaluated it as good
or excellent.

Oct '07 Nov '07 Dec '07 Feb '08
------- ------- ------- --------
Excellent 6.6 6.9 9.0 6.3
Good 48.5 50.3 49.9 45.1
Bad 30.9 27.4 27.9 33.3
Very bad 8.2 7.8 8.2 12.9
Don't Know/Answer 5.8 7.6 5.0 2.4

5. (U) A majority of interviewees (58.9 percent) said that a
cabinet change was necessary, down from 63.5 in January 2007.
A total of 34.8 percent said no cabinet change was
necessary, up from 26.4 percent in January 2007. The rest

did not know or did not respond to this question.

6. (U) Asked which minister or ministers needed to be
changed, the following were the results:

Min of Government and Justice Daniel Delgado Diamante: 48.8
Min of Health Rosario Turner: 28.7 percent
Min of Labor and Labor Development Edwin Salamin: 25.2
Min of Education Belgis Castro: 22.8 percent
Min of Public Works Benjamin Colamarco: 16.1 percent
Min of Economy and Finance Hector Alexander: 8.1 percent
Dir of the National Police Rolando Mirones: 7.2 percent
Min of Housing Balbina Herrera: 5.5 percent
All other ministers (combined): 5.1 percent.

Support for Democracy

7. (U) Nearly two-thirds of respondents (66.5 percent)
believed that democracy, though imperfect, was the best
system of government An astonishing 29.6 percent said
disagreed with this statement. One-third of respondents
between the ages of 18 and 29 (33.4 percent) disagreed with
this statement. Generally, the Electoral Tribunal (TE) was
believed to be transparent in it management of the 2009
elections securing the support of 58.4 percent of
interviewees. A total of 31.1 percent of respondents
indicated a lack of confidence in the TE. Overwhelming
majorities agreed that presidential candidates should publish
a list of their donors (87.0 percent) and that presidential
candidates should make a public declaration of their personal
financial assets (92.3 percent). A total of 74.4 percent of
respondents said that they would vote in 2009, and older
voters were more committed to voting. The poll revealed a
tie between support for the government's candidates (38.7
percent) and for the opposition's candidates (37.3 percent),
and 24.0 percent of respondents did not know or respond.

Agreement on Presidential Qualities

8. (U) Government and opposition supporters basically agreed
on the principal quality or qualities that they would like to
see in a presidential candidate. From most desired to least
desired, respondents cited the following as their most sought
after qualities (government; opposition): honesty/integrity
(34.7 percent; 44.1 percent), leadership (32.1 percent; 21.0
percent), experience (21.4 percent; 18.9 percent), ethics
(7.8 percent; 9.0 percent), and good sense (4.0 percent; 6.9

Martinelli Still the Opposition Favorite

9. (U) At 34.8 percent, Democratic Change (CD) Party
President Ricardo Martinelli remains the favorite opposition
choice for president. Trailing Martinelli by 21.6 points,
Moral Vanguard of the Nation (VMP) Party President and former
President Guillermo Endara comes in at 13.2 percent.
Panamenista Party presidential nomination aspirant Alberto
Vallarino was in third place at 12.3 percent, nosing out
Panamenista Pary President Juan Carlos Varela. Patriotic
Union (UP) President and former 1st VP Guillermo "Billy" Ford
and Panamenista presidential nomination contender Marco
Ameglio pull up the rear at 1.3 and 0.9 percent respectively.

Balbina Governing Coalition's Favorite

10. (U) Even though she has not declared herself to be a
candidate for president -- and indeed insists publicly that
she only wants to run for mayor of Panama -- Minister of
Housing Balbina Herrera is the preferred candidate for
president of the governing coalition (primarily the governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), but also the Popular
Party and the Liberal Party). Herrera outpaces current
Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro more than two to one
polling 41.3 percent to Navarro's 20.0 percent. A total of
4.3 percent voiced support for former President Ernesto "El
Toro" Perez Balladares and 0.5 percent for current 1st VP and
FM Samuel Lewis Navarro. Nearly one out of every three PRD
respondents cited "none" (9.8 percent) or "don't know/didn't
respond" (20.8).

Martinelli Still Leads "Likely Vote" Question

11. (U) Asked for whom they would vote for president,
respondents gave Martinelli the lead with 26.3 percent
support, up from 22.2 percent in September 2007 and from 22.7
percent in July 2007. Herrera was next at 21.6 percent,
nearly doubling her support in September 2007 which was 10.3
percent. Navarro polled about half of Martinelli's support
coming in at 13.3 percent, up nearly four points since
September 2007 when he polled 9.4 percent. Endara,
Vallarino, Varela, and Perez Balladares pull up the rear at
7.1, 5.8, 5.2, and 2.8 percent While Endara and Perez
Balladares basically held steady since the September 2007
poll, Vallarino's support rose 1.3 percent and Varela's
support nearly doubled from 2.3 percent.

PMG Seen as a Problem

12. (U) A majority of prospective voters (51.3 percent) said
that the election of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) as President
of the National Assembly had made "harmonic collaboration"
between the executive and legislative branches more
problematic. A total of 53.6 percent of respondents -- up
3.3 percent from October 2007 -- said PMG should resign.
More respondents also felt that PMG should not resign up five
points from October 2007 to 33.9 percent.

Wide Majority Support Inter-Party Primaries

13. (U) An overwhelming majority (81.3 percent) believed that
the opposition parties should hold an inter-party primary to
select a sole opposition candidate.

Technical Data

14. (U) Panama City broad sheet daily La Prensa published its
most recent installment of its "Pulse of the Nation" polling
series in a special insert included in its Monday, February
25 edition. Dichter and Neira Latin Research Network
conducted the poll for La Prensa conducting 1,200
face-to-face interviews in people's homes. The poll covered
urban and semi-rural areas, but excluded the indigenous areas
(comarcas) and Darien province. Pollsters interviewed only
men and women over the age of 18 who are residents in Panama.
The margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percent with a
level of confidence of 95 percent. The field work was
conducted from Friday, February 15 through Sunday, February
17. The age distribution was as follows:

Age Percentage
----- ----------
18-29 31.2
30-39 25.5
40-49 17.8
50 25.5

In the first stage, precincts (corregimientos) and census
sections were selected randomly for each socio-economic
level. In the second stage, the selection of interview
targets was according to random routes and at the stops along
these routes one person, selected randomly for sex and age,
was interviewed. A total of 49.5 percent of interviewees
were female, and 50.5 percent were male. A total of 69
percent of interviewees lived in urban areas, and 31 percent
lived in rural areas. A total of 67 percent expressed no
political affiliation while 33 percent provided their
political affiliation.


15. (C) There were not a lot of surprises in this poll.
Martinelli continues to dominate the opposition, dwarfing
Vallarino and Varela, the Panamenista Party's two most viable
presidential contenders. Panamenista contacts pointed with
glee, however, to the overwhelming support for the
inter-party primary, something Martinelli -- who
characterizes the proposal as the "inter-planetary primary"
and Endara continue to vehemently oppose. Meanwhile, Varela
and Vallarino claim to be beating the other two to one in the
internal Panamenista race for the presidential nomination.
Obviously, either Varela or Vallarino has to be wrong. The
problem is neither one seems to be doing any internal
polling, and both appear to be operating blind. This
national poll suggests Vallarino has the edge, but Varela
still controls the party machinery and Vallarino's national
strength could obscure his weight inside the party. The lack
of clarity inside Panamenismo is stalling opposition
coalition formation. Movement of Liberal Republican
Nationalists (MOLIRENA) President Sergio Gonzalez-Ruiz told
POLCOUNS February 27 that, though he wanted to form a
coalition with Martinelli, he could not bring along his party
as long as it was not clear would head the Panamenista
ticket. Ditto for Ford who would like to steer UP into
coalition with the Panamenista Party but who prefers
Vallarino over Varela. As for Endara, if he gets left on the
sidelines for opposition coalition building, he will be dead
politically. Meanwhile, growing support for Herrera and one
out of three PRD members refusing to indicate a preference
for presidential candidate suggest a lack of enthusiasm for
Navarro and indicate that the party is somewhat adrift. The
PRD scenario will not become clear, however, until after the
party's March 9 convention.

© Scoop Media

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