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Cablegate: Panama Election Countdown #3: 10 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 000417

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: PANAMA ELECTION COUNTDOWN #3: 10 WEEKS TO GO

REF: A. Panama 0298
B. Panama 0352
C. Panama 0076


We're Getting there
-------------------
1. (U) Electoral Magistrates proudly announced that the
electoral process is moving forward and is 70 percent
complete. Among other things, The Electoral Tribunal must
still select and train personnel to staff voting places and
set aside space and staff for vote counting committees at
the local and regional levels. PolOffs confirmed during a
trip to Chiriqui Province (septel) that Electoral Tribunal
headquarters are in constant communication with regional
directors regarding campaign developments, training, and
the distribution of information. Most of the regional
electoral regional authorities have prior electoral
experiences that will facilitate a smooth process and ease
concerns about disorganization or fraud.


Press Ethics Pact
-----------------
2. (SBU) Amid allegations of media favoritism toward
certain presidential candidates, key members of all of
Panama's print, radio and TV media signed a February 16
electoral ethics pact, promising to base their campaign
coverage on peaceful and democratic values. The Electoral
Tribunal Magistrates, the Electoral Prosecutor, members of
National Ecumenical Council and the coordinator of the
Ethics Pact signed by the four presidential candidates last
January were all on hand to witness the event. No
candidates or political representatives attended. The pact
comes in the wake of allegations of favoritism towards
opposition leader Martin Torrijos by La Prensa and MEDCOM
TV Channels 2 and 4 and censorship of presidential
candidate Guillermo Endara's political advertisements. (see
paras 5-6) The pact aims to calm the waters between the
press, the presidential candidates and their campaign
managers.


The Fifth Ballot is Dead
------------------------
3. (SBU) Early this week, Panama's Electoral Magistrates
publicly urged against issuing a fifth ballot on
constitutional reforms for the May 2 elections, claiming
that there is not enough time to prepare. The bill to
authorize a fifth ballot is languishing in the Legislative
Assembly, which reconvenes on March 1. President Moscoso
already has announced that she does not agree with
including a referendum on constitutional reform in the May
elections, further reducing the likelihood that she would
sign or implement such a bill. (Reftel C)


4. (SBU) Presidential candidates who support calling a
constituent assembly spoke up while the others kept their
mouth shut. Endara and Martinelli attacked the Electoral
Tribunal's position while frontrunner Martin Torrijos kept
quiet since he and his party do not want a fifth ballot.
Trapped between Moscoso's position and civil society's
fervent calls for constitutional reforms, Arnulfista
candidate Jose Miguel Aleman temporized, offering no
comment. Having called for constitutional reforms in the
early 90's and criticized Endara during the presidential
debate for not rewriting the constitution when he had a
chance, Aleman's weak response appeared inconsistent.


Battling for an icon
--------------------
5. (U) Debate continues over the use of late President and
Arnulfista Party namesake Arnulfo Arias' image. Electoral
Magistrate Erasmo Pinilla had ruled in January that former
President Endara could not use Arias' image in his campaign
advertisements because current President Mireya Moscoso,
Arias' widow, is the legal sole heir of Arias. Endara
complained that because as an ex-President and historical
figure Arias' image doesn't belong to anyone. He railed
against the Electoral Magistrates, stating to the press
that they are "not very virile" for buckling to President
Moscoso's will. Shortly after Endara's TV advertisement
was removed from the air, Aleman released one centered on
Arnulfo Arias.


6. (SBU) On February 18, contradicting Pinilla, Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis said publicly that Moscoso had not
inherited Arias' image with his estate. Solis continued
that rights of image and honor cease when an individual
dies. He also noted that Moscoso had abandoned any
residual rights she might have had when she remarried after
Arias' death. Endara, fed up with the situation, has
already announced that he is not going to use Arias' image
anymore "because it was only the first part of my public
strategy." Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman made
angry public statements that the Endara group is planning
an electoral fraud. (NOTE: Prosecutor Solis is the son of
Endara's campaign manager, Jose Menalco Solis. END NOTE)


7. (SBU) Aleman's statements represent the first GOP
allegations about fraud in the May 2 elections. Used to
fraud allegations against themselves, GOP officials have
insisted that they will respect election results. Aleman's
strong remarks could be part of a new Arnulfistas strategy
to discredit Endara. PolOffs learned from interlocutors
that the Arnulfistas intend to launch frontal attacks on
Endara instead of Torrijos so that the Arnulfistas end up
"at least in second place."


WATT

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