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Cablegate: Panama Political Analyst On May 2 Election:

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 000353

SIPDIS


DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2014
TAGS: PGOV PINR PM POL CHIEF
SUBJECT: PANAMA POLITICAL ANALYST ON MAY 2 ELECTION:
BARRING MISHAP, MARTIN TORRIJOS WILL WIN


REF: A. PANAMA 0040
B. 03 PANAMA 3294


Classified By: DCM CHRISTOPHER MCMULLEN FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) AND (D).


SUMMARY
-------
1. (C) Former Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) political
operative turned independent consultant and analyst, Jose
Isabel Blandon, told DCM and POL Counselor that the PRD's
superior numbers and organization and a divided opposition
probably will secure the presidency for Martin Torrijos on
May 2. Blandon predicted that many supporters of former
president Guillermo Endara will fail to vote because they are
disaffected from politics and because Endara's party,
Solidaridad, lacks the electoral machine to get them to the
polls. Also, candidate Jose Miguel Aleman, with support from
the Arnulfistas and MOLIRENA, will get far more votes than
his current 8% in opinion polls suggest. Besides an
(improbable) misstep, Blandon said several things could
derail Torrijos: further complications and bad publicity from
the apparently corrupt activities of his cousin (and
sidelined campaign chief) Hugo Torrijos, and internal party
infighting. According to Blandon, anti-corruption, Endara's
strongest issue, resonates more with the press than with
voters. Blandon made no bones about his dislike for Endara,
calling him "a danger to the country." End Summary.


Wary of Opinion Polls
---------------------

2. (SBU) Blandon, who served Panama dictator Manuel Noriega
as publicist and New York Consul General (See Bio Note, para
9), now turned political consultant, recently discussed his
view of the 2004 electoral campaign with DCM and POL
Counselor. Blandon presented a concise analysis of Panama's
electoral dynamics to support his view that PRD presidential
candidate Martin Torrijos will win the May 2 vote. According
to Blandon, Panama opinion polls have been notoriously
inaccurate in past elections. (The latest poll shows Martin
Torrijos leading ex-president Guillermo Endara 42%-34% with
Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman in third place with
8%.) One fault is that polls focus too heavily on urban
areas but do not concentrate on likely rural voters, Blandon
pointed out.


Party Loyalties Will Count
--------------------------

3. (SBU) Blandon predicted that 1.4 million (70%) of
Panama's roughly 2 million voters will actually cast ballots
on May 2. Of those 1.4 million voters, around 1 million are
registered party members. (See Reftel. Figures below were
updated as of 12/31/2004.) Party affiliation is strong in
Panama, Blandon said, and party members tend to vote for the
entire party slate. That tendency is stronger in the
countryside, where around 80% of the electorate will cast
ballots. Among the parties, PRD has the biggest membership
base (435,000), the most effective electoral machine, and the
most disciplined voters. Endara's Solidarity party has
relatively few members (73,000), most of whom joined in the
past several months, the weakest electoral machine, and least
committed supporters. The Arnulfista-MOLIRENA-PLN coalition,
Blandon continued, with over 300,000 members and over 2300
candidates for national and local office, will doubtless
produce much more than 8% of the vote for Jose Miguel Aleman.
Those facts will count heavily in the countryside, when
election day comes. (Note: PLN is the National Liberal
Party.)


"The Anti-System Vote Will Not Vote"
------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Blandon said the 1994 and 1999 elections have shown
a fairly constant baseline for the three biggest parties.
The PRD can count on 32% of the vote; the Arnulfistas 21%;
MOLIRENA 10%. Endara appeals above all to disaffected voters
who take a cynical view of politics, Blandon continued. "The
anti-system (Endara) vote will not vote," he said, certainly
not in as large numbers as party members; in short, a large
percentage of Endara supporters are not likely voters. Also
Endara's support mostly is urban, where voter turnout is
relatively low. Blandon predicted the following election day
results:


Torrijos 37%
Aleman 32%
Endara 21%
Martinelli 4%
unaccounted 6%

Anti-corruption a Declining Issue
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Another historical reality confronting the Endara
campaign is that third-party candidates fall short in Panama.
For instance, Alberto Vallarino, a highly placed Arnulfista
who left the party to run for president in Panama's May 1999
election under another banner finished with only 17% of the
vote. On the other hand, if Endara wins more than 25% of the
vote, that could come at the expense of Aleman, Blandon said.
The PRD has never captured more than 37% of the vote, he
pointed out, and PRD ally Partido Popular is limited in what
it can deliver for Torrijos. Anti-corruption, Endara's
principal attraction for voters due to his clean record, in
the end will have less effect on cynical voters than the
press reports, Blandon predicted. Endara could get elected,
Blandon conceded, if either Torrijos or Aleman make a major
mistake.


Torrijos Also Has Problems
--------------------------

6. (SBU) Predicting a tough campaign, Blandon hastened to
add that victory for Torrijos is hardly assured. Trying to
counteract the PRD's "lack of legitimacy with the private
sector," Torrijos chose successful businessman Samuel Lewis
Navarro as his first vice presidential running mate. Blandon
pointed to several potential problems that could cost
Torrijos the presidency. The first is the PRD's alliance
with the Partido Popular (PP), the former Christian
Democratic Party, which may not survive the election.
Whether the alliance will help or hurt Torrijos is unclear.
(Comment: Many observers point out that the PRD-PP alliance
is inherently awkward because the Christian Democrats were
fierce opponents of Manuel Noriega, whom the PRD supported.)
Recently PP legislator Teresita de Arias publicized the abuse
of tax "exonerations" by legislators who import luxury cars
duty free, an action that angered many PRDistas who were the
worst culprits.


Cousin Hugo Could Prove Toxic
-----------------------------

7. (C) But Torrijos faces still more potent internal
dangers. The first is his close relationship with first
cousin Hugo Torrijos, a major source of finance for his
campaign, who apparently is implicated in a corruption
scandal dating from his late-1990's stewardship of Ports
Engineering Consulting Corporation (PECC). Martin has
recently asked Hugo to step down as his campaign manager,
Blandon noted, but can't really disentangle himself
meaningfully from his involvement with Hugo. Another problem
for Torrijos are the 7 or 8 anti-Torrijos legislative
candidates running in large constituencies (circuitos), such
as Arraijan, Chorrera, David, and San Miguelito, where
intense in-fighting could cost Torrijos votes.


Endara Not Up To Challenge
--------------------------

8. (C) Blandon emphasized that Panama has serious challenges
ahead of it in the coming years. It must create a modern
state structure, plan and finance Canal expansion, solve
security issues on the Colombia border, and negotiate a Free
Trade Agreement and "normalize" its relationship with the
United States. Endara is not up to the challenge, Blandon
implied. Calling him a "rudderless ship," Blandon claimed
former president Endara is "a danger for the country," adding
that Endara has no comprehension of how the 9/11/2001
terrorist attacks have changed the world. (Note: On this
score, Blandon gave credit to President Moscoso for
establishing a close relationship with President Bush that is
highly valuable for Panama. End Note.)


Bio Note and Comment
--------------------

9. (C) Bright, wily (a generous term for some observers),
well connected and highly paid for years under Noriega,
Blandon served as Noriega's Minister of Culture and in
several diplomatic posts. An agronomist by training and an
erstwhile leftist, Blandon leveraged his influence on his
relationships with the Panama Defense Forces (PDF) and its
leadership, making him one of the most powerful individuals
in the government. In the late 1980s Blandon authored "Plan
Blandon," an abortive attempt to ease Noriega from power and
avoid bloodshed. Since Operation Just cause and Noriega's
fall from power in 1989, Blandon has reinvented himself,
pursuing a career as a political analyst, commentator, and
consultant for hire. (Blandon's clients include PRD First
Vice Presidential Candidate Samuel Lewis Navarro, which
accounts in part for his acerbic assessment of Endara,
although the bad blood between them dates back to the late
1980s when Endara and Blandon were on different sides of the
military/civilian divide.) He hosts a daily talk show on
political affairs called Radio Noticias Bahia.


WATT

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