Cablegate: Panama Post: 9th Edition, Volume Ii


DE RUEHZP #0433/01 1482135
R 272135Z MAY 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000433


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/06/2018

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


1. (C) New polling data revealing a horse race in the
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and a run-away
lead by Panamenista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela
in his party's race were the Panama Post's big scoop. Though
available for the past couple of weeks, this new polling
information is only now making its way into the public
domain. PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera's
political confidante National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman
was dismissive of these "momentary" polls when asked for his
reaction on the morning drive-time radio talk-show circuit on
May 27. The new polling data, which is being confirmed by
additional polling to be reported SEPTEL, suggests that the
political leaders who control powerful machines in the
traditional parties -- the PRD's Juan Carlos Navarro and the
Panamenista Party's Juan Carlos Varela -- are formidable
opponents. In this week's edition, the Panama Post includes
the following stories:

-- a new CID/Gallup poll indicates that there is a horse race
in the PRD, Varela is pulling away in a decisive manner in
the Panamenista party, but Democratic Change (CD)
presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli remains the
preferred candidate in the broader opposition;
-- Varela finally shares some of his internal polling that
shows his commanding lead;
-- Patriotic Union (UP) VP Jose Raul Mulino reacts to the new
polling by saying that if Varela wins the Panamenista
nomination that UP would enter into an alliance "the next
day" with Martinelli; and
-- Martinelli launches his race for the presidential palace.

End summary.

New Poll Reveals Interesting Developments

2. (SBU) President Torrijos' negatives are way up, the gap
between Revolutionary Democratic Party presidential
candidates Balbina Herrera and Juan Carlos Navarro is
closing, Panamenista Party presidential candidate Juan Carlos
Varela is pulling away from Alberto Vallarino, and Democratic
Change (CD) presidential candidate remains the preferred
opposition candidate, CID-Gallup de Panama's May 5-11 poll
revealed. A review of this poll's findings includes:

-- About twice as many respondents evaluated Torrijos' job
performance as "bad" or "very bad" (36%) than evaluated his
performance as "good" or "very good" (19%). Some 45%
assessed Torrijos performance as "regular." Torrijos'
negatives outpaced his positives, and, since February,
Torrijos' approval rating fell 23 points. Torrijos was
marked down for: managing poorly the economy; not fulfilling
his campaign's "zero corruption" pledge; being perceived as
not acting in the public's interest; and for not governing in
a "transparent manner."

-- Respondents had a grim outlook for the future. Only 24%
said they perceived the economic futures for their families
to be better. Some 74% had a negative or static outlook with
30% saying their economic future looked worse and 44% saying
it looked the same. The cost of living was far and away
Panama's principle problem. Four out of five voters said
that they believed that Panama was headed in the wrong
direction. Shockingly, one out of every six respondents
reported having a family member who had been the victim of an
assault or robbery over the past four months. Coupled with
this grim outlook, there was significant voter apathy. While
a majority of respondents indicated that they did not belong
to any political party, majorities -- regardless of party
affiliation, education or economic status -- did not voice
any political opinion.

-- The gap between Herrera and Navarro appears to be closing.
Herrera still leads Navarro by seven points on the question
assessing PRD party member voter intent, but Navarro
significantly closed the gap from February rising from 19 to
36 points while Herrera fell nine points. Navarro made a
significant recovery from February to May, but still has
ground to cover to pull even with Herrera.
-- Varela is pulling away from Vallarino. Varela leads
Vallarino by either 24 or 34 points in the questions that
assessed Panamenista party member voter intent. (Note:
There is a discrepancy between the report's graphic that
indicates that Varela, at 58%, leads Vallarino, at 24%, by 34
points, but the accompanying write-up only gives Varela a 24
point lead.) Regardless, Varela is opening up a significant
lead over Vallarino.

-- While the Panamenista race appeared to be clarifying,
Martinelli nonetheless remained the preferred opposition
candidate in the question that assessed opposition voter
intent. Martinelli recovered a bit rising from 22% in
February to 25% in May and led over Varela by six points.
Vallarino remained a distant third. Six times more
opposition voters in May (31%) responded "none" than did in
February (5%).

3. (C) (Editorial Note: State/INR provided post a copy of
this poll. Given the important developments revealed in this
poll, post believed it important to share more broadly its
assessment of this report. Post is very grateful for INR's
support. Thank you very much, INR.)

4. (C) Comment: The results of this poll track closely with
elements of a recently conducted Dichter and Neira poll,
snippets of which post has gleaned from various contacts. It
appears that in the PRD, where it looked like Herrera might
be pulling away from Navarro, instead there may be a horse
race. Conversely, in the Panamenista Party, where it looked
like there was a neck-in-neck horse race, that Varela may be
pulling away from Vallarino and developing a dominating lead.
Martinelli, however, sustains a small lead over Varela, may
be closing with Herrera, but leads Navarro. In her May 13
breakfast with POLCOUNS, Herrera was exceedingly comfortable
that Navarro was no longer a threat, and she spoke of getting
organized for the general elections, planning a visit to
Washington after she won the nomination, and taking time off
between her presumed primary victory and the launch of her
general election run to study English. Vallarino campaign
advisor Jose Manuel Teran told POLCOUNS over breakfast on May
16, "The race (between Vallarino and Varela) is extremely
close. Don't believe what Varela or Vallarino tell you about
having a commanding lead; it's not true." If this poll is
accurately reporting developing trends, then both Herrera and
Vallarino may be in for a rude awakening. It may explain the
renewed vigor evident in Navarro's and Martinelli's
campaigns. On May 16, Martinelli political advisor Jimmy
Papadimitriu told POLCOUNS that Varela undermined the CD's
alliance with MOLIRENA that was to be announced at
Martinelli's May 18 campaign launch. It is possible that
Varela's surge in the Panamenista internal race caused
MOLIRENA President Sergio Gonzalez-Ruiz to reconsider his
next steps.

Varela Shares a Poll (Finally)

5. (C) Panamenista Party President and presidential
nomination candidate "Juan Carlos Varela has the advantage in
the Panamenista Party's primary elections and has increased
his advantage over Alberto Vallarino since the December poll
of this series," CID/Gallup reported in its March 2008
private poll for Varela. Varela provided POLCOUNS a copy of
this internal campaign poll that he commissioned. Among this
polls key findings:

-- "Support for Marco Ameglio is every day less; more of his
followers are joining the ranks of Varela than of Vallarino,"
this poll asserted. From December to March, support for
Varela grew from 36 to 55 percent, while support for
Vallarino remained essentially steady falling only two points
over the same period from 34 to 32 percent.
-- Both Varela and Vallarino "are weaker in the Greater
Panama City area than they are in the interior."
-- The primary reason for Varela's advantage was that "he is
perceived as being a much more honest person than Vallarino."
A majority (55 percent) said Varela would be the best
candidate to fight corruption.
-- More women than men support Varela, whereas more men than
women tend to support Vallarino and Ameglio.
-- "It is important to note that among those people who
declared themselves to be Panamenistas, only thirty-eight
percent are enlisted in the party," the poll stated.
"Another twenty percent say that they are thinking about
enlisting in the party but have not done so. Half of these
people would vote for Varela if they were enlisted."
-- Eight out of 10 respondents indicated that they intended
to vote for the Panamenista Party in the general elections.
A total of 89 percent of those polled indicated that the
country was headed in the wrong direction.

6. (SBU) Technical data: This poll, commissioned by Varela,
was carried out from February 29 to March 4, 2008 by CID
Gallup Panama. Only self-identified Panamenista Party
members or sympathizers were included in this poll. All
interviews were conducted in homes and face-to-face. (In
another portion of the accompanying technical data, this poll
states that some interviews were conducted via telephone.)
Interviews were done in homes that were randomly selected and
distributed according to demographic data. This poll
included residents in greater Panama City, Chiriqui and Bocas
del Toro provinces, and "central provinces." The poll did
not include rural parts of Panama province, the city of
Colon, Darien province or the San Blas islands. A total of
1,206 individuals were interviewed.

7. (C) Comment: The Panama Post has finally gotten its hands
on an internal Panamenista poll. While the poll that Varela
finally delivered is nearly two months old, it is the only
snapshot of the internal party dynamics that the Panama Post
has seen to date. Varela, with his "Clean Hands" slogan, has
strived to make honesty a core theme of his campaign.
Additionally, he has been placing significant emphasis on
signing up new party members. If this poll is accurate, both
strategies should pay dividends for Varela. Vallarino has
been competing with Varela to enlist more party members, a
counterproductive strategy for Vallarino if this poll's
indicators are correct. Traditionally, the Panamenista Party
has been stronger in rural Panama, not in urban areas, hence
the emphasis of both candidates in the primary at looking for
support outside of Panama City. The May CID/Gallup reported
in paras 2-4 would seem to suggest that Varela is indeed
building momentum inside the Panamenista party and pulling
away rapidly from Vallarino.

If Varela Wins, UP Will Join with Martinelli

8. (C) "If Varela wins the Panamenista presidential
nomination, then the next day Patriotic Union (UP) will form
an alliance with Martinelli," UP VP Jose Raul Mulino told
POLCOUNS after discussing the latest polling data. Mulino,
who said that prior to his conversation with POLCOUNS he was
not aware of the results of the latest Dichter and Neira and
CID/Gallup polls, was not surprised that Herrera had slipped,
was mildly surprise that Navarro had made up so much ground,
and was very surprised that Varela was pulling away so
strongly from Vallarino. Mulino reiterated that he led the
UP faction that supported an alliance with Vallarino, but
added, "Vallarino is the best prepared to take on Balbina,
the best prepared to be president. Varela though is too
immature and ill-prepared for a tough fight with Balbina and
lacks presidential stature." Asserting that Balbina was
dangerous, Mulino explained that ultimately he would have to
support the strongest candidate against Balbina. "If the
opposition choices are between Varela and Martinelli, then
I'll go with Martinelli."

9. (C) Mulino wants the opposition to win very badly and
strongly believes that Balbina was a significant threat.
"This lady shot at me in San Miguelito. I had to hide under
a bridge. People have not forgotten how radical and
dangerous she is." Nonetheless, Herrera would be the ideal
PRD candidate for the opposition to confront: "We can remind
people of her past and draw simple, stark contrasts with her."

10. (C) Bio note: Mulino is not in good health. He said
that he was still recovering from the back surgery he had
about three months ago and that he had had to be re-admitted
to intensive care when he developed a dangerous thrombosis.
Complaining that he had to take seven pills every night and
still suffered significant back pain, Mulino said he was only
now able to begin mild exercise, for example, walking for
thirty minutes. Mulino said he was at high risk for
"arterial blockages" and therefore was taking potent blood
thinners, thinners that made it difficult to address any
minor bleeding such as bleeding associated with dental
check-ups, blood tests, or minor cuts. "I'm trying to reduce
the stress in my life. If I get stressed, I simply stop
doing what ever stresses me. I try to live in the here and
now and to enjoy life more." Mulino added that he did not
have any aspirations to seek an elected office and did not
seek any ministerial or other high-level government positions.

11. (C) Comment: POLCOUNS was struck by how quickly this
Vallarino supporter was prepared to shift to backing
Martinelli should Varela win the Panamenista presidential
nomination. Reportedly, Mulino wrote an early draft of
Vallarino's campaign launch speech. Mulino was very
conscious of the fact that what UP does -- that is who it
backs -- in the May 2009 elections would probably be the most
thing for the next 25 years of this new party. If UP and
MOLIRENA ally themselves with CD, the Panamenista Party -- a
party that lays claim to the top of any opposition ticket --
would be isolated in the opposition and be stripped of
traditional allies.

Surprise, Surprise: Martinelli is Going to Run

12. (SBU) To nobody's surprise, CD Party President Ricardo
Martinelli threw his hat into the ring to run for president
at a campaign launch event on May 18. Promising greater
access to opportunity for all Panamanians -- not just PRD
members or Panamenista party members or the wealthy --
Martinelli took advantage of this campaign launch to
re-introduce himself and to develop some basic message for
his campaign:

-- Panama is at a historic moment and must take advantage of
this opportunity that may never return. -- Noting that Panama
was experiencing phenomenal economic growth, Martinelli
acknowledged that many Panamanians felt that these newfound
riches were not reaching them. "They are not reaching the
PRD bases. They are not reaching the bases of the opposition
parties. They are not reaching independent Panamanians. The
riches are staying in the pockets of those who govern. "My
candidacy and that of Democratic Change is more than a
political proposal. It is a movement that aims to break with
the continuity of this phenomenon and to change this
country." The riches of Panama needed to be shared with all
Panamanians regardless of political affiliation or social
status. "We need to act now because this golden opportunity
may be the only opportunity that Panama will get."

-- Panama needs to avoid populist answers. -- "One does not
need to look far to see that danger that approaches. It is
sufficient to observe what has happened in our brother
country, Venezuela." Drawing a direct parallel, Martinelli
said that Venezuela some ten years ago also had the kind of
golden opportunity enjoyed by Panama today, "but instead of
electing somebody who understood the economy, they elected a
man named Hugo Chavez." Today, Venezuela was perched on the
edge of "an economic abyss." "I am not going to let that
happen to Panama."

-- It is time to look to new political alternatives (read:
Martinelli). -- For the 32 years that the PRD had been in
power, Martinelli asserted, the PRD had not solved Panama's
problems: 40 percent of Panamanians continued to be poor,
the riches did not reach those who need them, insecurity had
increased, prices had increased, the cost of living had
risen, and corruption continued. "The leadership of the PRD
represents continuity and with continuity there cannot be
change." Shifting and broadening his attacks, Martinelli
then took on "traditional governments that have led Panama
for the past 40 years." "What have they done over the past
40 years to eliminate poverty," he asked. "We need somebody
different who will fight for all Panamanians so that
opportunities reach those most in need, so that all
Panamanians benefit from progress without regard for their
political affiliation."

-- "I've created jobs." -- Unlike his political challengers,
Martinelli said that he had created jobs his entire life. He
explained that every since he was young he had worked hard
and worked long hours, starting when he was very young
polishing shoes and selling newspapers. He said he joined
the hardware story 99 -- what would become Super99, his
supermarket chain -- when it was nearly bankrupt. Through
hard work his business grew until all was lost in looting in
December 1989 in the wake of the U.S. invasion. Not giving
up, Martinelli said he rebuilt his businesses into the
successes that that were today.

13. (C) Comment: In his drive for Panama's presidency,
Martinelli has laid out a basic message: don't lose this
opportunity; avoid populist adventurism (read: Herrera); look
to new political alternatives; I'll spread opportunity; I
have the experience to bring that opportunity to you. Though
his campaign put on a very professional event, Martinelli's
own performance fell short. He plowed through his speech,
not allowing his 4,000-person strong crowd to join in by
failing to pause for his applause lines, for example. Clad
only in a campaign golf shirt and jeans, Martinelli sought to
portray an every-man image. Popular reggaeton musician DJ
Black and jazz musician Roberto Blades (brother of jazz
musician and Torrijos' Minister of Tourism Ruben Blades),
warmed up crowd with live music, including several songs
prepared for the campaign. On May 16, Martinelli political
advisor Jimmy Papadimitriu told POLCOUNS that Martinelli had
hoped to announce an alliance with MOLIRENA, an alliance that
was derailed by Varela. Some MOLIRENA leaders (e.g.,
Wigberto Quintero) were on hand. According to Papadimitriu,
Varela threatened Martinelli that he would go negative on
Martinelli if Martinelli "prematurely" announced an alliance.
Martinelli warned Varela that if Varela went negative,
Martinelli would take off the gloves and go after Varela and
would not spare any money in the effort. While he is
positioning himself as the new alternative, Martinelli will
need to come to terms with the relationship he has cultivated
with Varela deciding whether to try to co-opt or compete
against Varela as well as the PRD.

© Scoop Media

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