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Cablegate: Panama Election Countdown #2: 11 Weeks to Go

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000352

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: PANAMA ELECTION COUNTDOWN #2: 11 WEEKS TO GO


REF: A. 03 PANAMA 2451
B. PANAMA 0076
C. PANAMA 0298


1. Sensitive But Unclassified. Protect Accordingly.


The Race Is On
--------------
2. (U) Candidates for all 1,754 national and local positions
to be contested in Panama's May 2 elections have shifted
their efforts into high gear. As political advertising
increases in every medium from rolling loudspeakers to
internet popup windows, candidates and their representatives
are hitting the talkshow circuits and pounding the pavement
to win votes. All may proceed full throttle now that the
February 7 deadline for objecting to candidacies has passed.
Within the next two weeks, the Electoral Tribunal will
publish a comprehensive list of candidates in the
government's Official Gazette and on their website,
http://www.tribunal-electoral.gob.pa. The Electoral
Tribunal's Spanish-language website also contains useful
demographic statistics about Panama's voters, a comprehensive
list of electoral regulations, and historical data from
previous elections.


Have some "GUIMI" with your "MAMI"
----------------------------------
3. (U) Noting that several of Former President Guillermo
Endara's Solidarity Party candidates served in the Moscoso
administration, Martin Torrijos made a tongue-in-cheek
assertion on February 9 that Moscoso has entered a silent
pact with Endara, using the first syllables of the two's
first names to form Guimi (GUI-llermo and MI-reya). This
conflating of syllables was intended to counter previous
allegations by both Endara and Martinelli that Moscoso and
Torrijos had entered into a "Pacto Mami" (MA-rtin and
MI-reya) through which they agreed not to air dirty laundry
about each other. Torrijos noted that Endara has a comical
way of saying things and complained that he deflects public
attention by alleging conspiracies between presidential
candidates and President Moscoso instead of focusing on what
he will do if elected.


He may be corrupt . . .
-----------------------
4. (SBU) Controversy about President Moscoso has swirled
around her putative legal right to campaign on behalf of
specific candidates, addressed in Article 130 of Panama's
constitution, which prohibits "direct or indirect official
support to candidates for popularly elected positions." The
most recent dust-up arose when legislative candidate Carlos
"Tito" Afu showed up at the Ministry of Public Works'
official inauguration of several new road projects in his
electoral circuit. Afu, previously elected as an opposition
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) legislator, gained
notoriety when he waved a wad of bills in the air on
television in January 2001, claiming that it was a payment to
vote in favor of the controversial CEMIS project. (See Reftel
A). The Supreme Court dismissed the case because ostensibly
the Legislative Assembly had not lifted the immunity of the
Legislators implicated in the scandal. Afu is now a
candidate for the Arnulfista Party in the same electoral
Circuit (7-1, Las Tablas), and President Moscoso was
pilloried in the press this week for campaigning on his
behalf.


. . . But he's my candidate
---------------------------
5. (SBU) Responding to front-page newspaper images of Moscoso
dancing with Afu during the official event, the Electoral
Magistrates requested that the Electoral Prosecutor
investigate Moscoso. Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo Solis
responded that only the Legislative Assembly may investigate
the President, but implied that he might investigate Minister
of Public Works Eduardo Quiros, also present at the event.
Legislative Assembly President, Arnulfista Jacobo Salas,
stated on February 12 that the Assembly had no intention of
investigating the President. Moscoso lashed out at La
Prensa, which published the initial report, claiming that
journalists are using the power of the pen to support
opposition PRD candidate Martin Torrijos.


6. (SBU) Opposition candidates were outspoken in their
distaste for Moscoso's actions. Cambio Democratico Candidate
Ricardo Martinelli stated that Moscoso should be doing the
job for which Panamanians elected her -- running the
government -- not campaigning for her friends. PRD Vice
Presidential candidate Ruben Arosemena said that it is
obvious Moscoso is campaigning on behalf of her favorite
candidates, but did not call for an investigation.
Solidaridad Presidential Candidate Endara was the most
colorful critic, asserting that he would never have supported
Moscoso's presidential candidacy if he knew she were such "an
ignoramus" when it came to electoral regulations. Arnulfista
candidate Aleman denied Moscoso had done anything wrong.
(NOTE: According to Aleman supporters, Moscoso's arrogance is
hurting his campaign, but he has not been able to break free
of her. END NOTE)


97,000 Support Constituent Assembly
----------------------------------
7. (U) On February 11, Panama's Ecumenical Council submitted
to President Moscoso a petition in favor of convoking a
constituent assembly with 97,000 signatures. Moscoso
responded on February 12 that she had taken the signatories'
interest into account, but does not consider it prudent to
convoke a constituent assembly in the middle of an electoral
campaign. Therefore, she continued, it will be necessary for
the next administration to address constitutional reform.
Given her declarations, prospects for a fifth ballot being
included in the May 2 elections have slipped even further
away (Reftel B). (NOTE: Of 1,204 Panamanians who responded
to a December 2003 CID Gallup public opinion poll, 75% didn't
even know what a Constituent Assembly was. END NOTE)


Comment: Pushing the envelope within limits
-------------------------------------------
8. (SBU) Since her decision to openly support then
pre-candidate Jose Miguel Aleman before the party's
nominating convention, much to the dismay of the other two
pre-candidates, Moscoso has pushed the ethical envelope in
campaigning, claiming that she is exercising her rights as
President of the Arnulfista Party rather than abusing her
authority as President of Panama. Clearly, Moscoso's
position changed since she requested in March 1999 that then
President Ernesto Perez Balladares "honor his word not to
favor any candidate," (words that were reprinted in this
week's newspapers). Most observers agree that Moscoso has
crossed an ethical line by making partisan statements and
attending campaign events that favor Aleman, but disagree
whether she has violated the constitution, the law, or the
electoral code. The fact that Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo
Solis, a Perez Balladares appointee, didn't seize the
opportunity to investigate Moscoso shows his penchant to act
independently despite old PRD affiliations. All are healthy
indications that Panama's election controversies will be
contained within the appropriate institutional channels.
While the campaign rhetoric is bound to heat up in coming
weeks, prospects for violent disputes over Panama's elections
remain low.


WATT

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