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Cablegate: La Dona Hits Panama's Airwaves. Panama Election

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 000465

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: LA DONA HITS PANAMA'S AIRWAVES. PANAMA ELECTION
COUNTDOWN #4: 9 WEEKS TO GO

REF: A. PANAMA 0076
B. PANAMA 0352
C. PANAMA 0417


Fifth ballot refuses to die
---------------------------
1. (U) While a political cartoon in a Panama daily
depicted the fifth ballot's funeral, civil society refused
to let the issue rest in peace. Criticism abounded in the
wake of last week's Electoral Tribunal (ET) and Executive
Branch insistence on not issuing a fifth ballot on
constitutional reforms in the May 2004 elections. Both
1999 President of the National Counting Board Ricardo
Lombana and widely known union leader Mariano Mena have
attacked that decision and questioned the costs entailed by
holding a future referendum on the issue versus issuing a
fifth ballot this May. Maribel Jaen, Executive Director of
the Catholic Church's Peace and Justice Commission, appears
resigned to the fifth ballot's demise, at least for this
May. Nonetheless, she asserted that regardless of the
estimated $6 million cost, Panamanians deserve the
opportunity to decide the issue of constitutional reform
through a referendum. Noting the millions of dollars that
the GOP spent to promote last year's Miss Universe Pageant
in Panama, Jaen insisted that the cost would be justified.


2. (SBU) Civil society pressure led prominent Arnulfista
legislator Jose Blandon Jr. to announce his willingness to
consider constitutional reforms as proposed by opposition
PRD-PP alliance. Blandon said he is willing to follow
Article 308 of Panama's constitution provided that certain
amendments are made to the proposed bill. (See Reftel A.)
Blandon insists that the bill include changes in the
procedure for appointing the Attorney General and the
Solicitor General, two officials that the next President
will appoint. Observers have noted that Blandon's move
allows the Arnulfistas a certain peace of mind even if PRD
frontrunner Martin Torrijos wins the May 2 election.
Ironically, the Arnulfistas initially criticized the PRD-PP
bill, proposing a fifth ballot instead. Perceiving the
Legislative Assembly as entirely corrupt, civil society
groups do not want that entity to make constitutional
reforms.


"La Dona"
---------
3. (U) Flying in the face of conventional wisdom that
"nothing happens before Carnival", well-known publicist,
songwriter and singer Pedrito Altamiranda rocked Panama's
political calm before the 5-day Carnival holiday with his
wildly popular new tune, "La Dona." Panamanians refer to
President Moscoso as "La Dona" ("the stately old lady").
With lilting, highly danceable rhythm and biting humor
Altamiranda satirizes Moscoso's trips overseas, lavish
parties, love life, and contested Supreme Court
appointments, among other things. Though he has not
released his new CD, Altamiranda lent the song over the
weekend of February 14-15 to a radio station popular among
Panama's youth. After two days, "La Dona" became the most
requested song ever.


4. (SBU) The GOP has not officially censored the song, but
DJs at the radio station revealed that the station's owners
instructed them to stop playing it. Evidently the station
does not want to lose revenue if Arnulfista presidential
candidate Jose Miguel Aleman were to pull his political
advertisements. Altamiranda paid a price too. Panama's
Tourism Institute (IPAT) had decided at the end of 2003
that cancer victim Altamiranda would be honored during the
official Carnival Queen's crowning ceremony; however, at
the last minute, the organizers removed Altamiranda from
the program. Carnival Commission authorities and
Altamiranda both deny that the change was due to the song,
but a presidential staffer confided that Moscoso's office
had placed a call to IPAT questioning their decision to
honor Altamiranda.


Candidates take it easy during Carnival week
--------------------------------------------
5. (U) Campaign activities dropped as expected during
Carnival week when everyone in Panama City heads for the
provinces to "carnavalear." Cambio Democratico Candidate
Ricardo Martinelli, with a recent death in the family,
decided to stay away from politics and carnival festivities
this week. Solidarity candidate Guillermo Endara announced
that he and his family would attend a religious retreat,
but warned he would come back next week with a strong anti-
corruption campaign. Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel
Aleman announced that he would spend time with his family
and attend a popular Ash Wednesday Catholic mass in Las
Tablas. Campaign frontrunner, Revolutionary Democratic
Party (PRD) Candidate Martin Torrijos spent a couple of
days at a beach house, but also visited several towns to
take advantage of the crowds and sponsored the very popular
water trucks to entertain the people during Carnival
festivities. Torrijos was the most active of all the
candidates.


Presidential ballots ready
--------------------------
6. (U) Electoral Tribunal officers announced that the
first draft of the presidential ballot has been printed.
Once the Electoral Magistrates clear the text, the print
shop will proceed to print the final version. This
announcement allows the Electoral Tribunal to publicly
confirm that Panama's electoral process is on schedule.


Call to submit blank votes
--------------------------
7. (U) In an unexpected announcement, a previously unknown
leftist group calling itself the "Unified Popular Movement"
(MPU) has urged Panamanians to submit blank ballots during
the May 2 elections or void their votes by selecting more
than one candidate. Allegedly, MPU members are national
university student leaders and professors, as well as
workers. MPU organizers insist that none of the candidates
will fulfill their electoral promises and have criticized
all of them. Former President Endara, MPU charged was a
puppet of then US Ambassador to Panama Deane Hinton during
his 1989-2004 presidency. MPU criticized PRD-PP Martin
Torrijos for his allegedly poor performance as Vice
Minister of Government and Justice under the Perez
Balladares administration and his role in telephone and
electricity privatization. MPU referred to Arnulfista
candidate Jose Miguel Aleman's government plan as a
continuation of the current GOP. Finally, MPU criticized
Cambio Democratico Candidate Ricardo Martinelli for having
served in PRD and Arnulfista administrations.


8. (SBU) MPU's call spurred an immediate reaction by PRD-
PP Martin Torrijo's First Vice Presidential candidate
Samuel Lewis Navarro and another Torrijos supporter, former
President of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce, Manuel
Jose Paredes. Both criticized MPU's position as
irresponsible and encouraged people to study the
candidates' platforms and to make an informed decision.
Historically, the PRD has had links with leftist groups in
Panama and even has a leftist wing within the party.
Observers have noted that the firm responses from Lewis
Navarro and Paredes, neither of them old guard PRD,
illustrate differences among Torrijos' personal followers
and party followers.

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