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Cablegate: More Secrets, a Debate, and Another Poll Shows

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 000651

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM AND USOAS/SNEFF


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: MORE SECRETS, A DEBATE, AND ANOTHER POLL SHOWS
TORRIJOS WITH A BIG LEAD. PANAMA ELECTION COUNTDOWN #7: 6
WEEKS TO GO


REF: A. PANAMA 0613
B. PANAMA 0564
C. PANAMA 0301


SUMMARY/COMMENT: REMARKABLY UNREMARKABLE
----------------------------------------
1. (SBU) Local press meticulously covered former President
Ernesto Perez Balladares' unexpected disclosure of
discretionary expenditures during his presidency (1994-99),
tied to the ongoing battle between Electoral Prosecutor
Gerardo Solis and President Moscoso. (Reftels A & B). A
March 16 presidential debate focused on the four candidates'
plans to address unemployment, corruption, the administration
of justice, and Panama's ailing Social Security Fund, but
broke no new ground. Diplomatic community representatives
are skeptical about OAS election observation plans, citing
Panamanians' ambivalence about the election and solid track
record for peaceful balloting. Finally, La Prensa published
an opinion poll on March 15 showing Martin Torrijos (PRD)
still far ahead with 47%, followed by Guillermo Endara
(Solidarity) at 29.5%, Jose Miguel Aleman (PA) creeping up
and staying out of single digits at 13%, and Ricardo
Martinelli at 7.5%. According to PolOffs' discussions with a
wide range of Panamanians and diplomats, neither group
believes that the candidates have addressed the country's
most pressing problems in a serious way. In a country where
politics is a national sport, none of the candidates has
touched a cord among the electorate. End Summary/Comment.


ANOTHER INSTALLMENT OF THE NUMBERS GAME
---------------------------------------
2. (SBU) Panamanians do not appear to be avidly following the
ongoing electoral campaign. On March 15, La Prensa published
an opinion poll showing Martin Torrijos (PRD) at 47%,
Guillermo Endara (Solidarity) at 29.5%, Jose Miguel Aleman
(PA) at 13%, and Ricardo Martinelli at 7.5%. Respondents are
not aware either of the professional background or
vice-presidential running mates of the presidential candidate
for whom they plan to vote. Endara's background was "best"
known, but 59.2% of respondents who stated they intend to
vote for him were unable to identify what he studied in the
University. The figures were grimmer for Aleman (77%),
Martinelli (75.6%), and Torrijos (74.7%). Corresponding
figures for those unable to name the running mates of the
candidate for whom they intend to vote were: Torrijos
(56.9%), Endara (59.6), Aleman (71.8%) and Martinelli
(83.3%). In the unfavorable category, Aleman continues as
the candidate for whom the most Panamanians say they would
definitely not vote, with 39.5% of respondents dismissing his
candidacy.


I SHOWED YOU MY CARDS. WHAT ABOUT YOURS?
----------------------------------------
3. (SBU) Former President Ernesto Perez Balladares (EPB)
jumped into the press circus over President Moscoso's refusal
to reveal discretionary expenditures to Electoral Prosecutor
Gerardo Solis. EPB's records of discretionary expenditures
during his Presidency appeared on the front page of the El
Panama America newspaper March 16. The March 17 El Panama
America detailed EPB's expenditures, including payments to
former President and current Solidarity Party Candidate
Guillermo Endara. Embassy will research those payments and
report any substantive findings septel. Noting correctly
that EPB had not provided complete records, an angry Moscoso
sarcastically told a television reporter that she would
gladly do the same, but only five years after leaving office.
Ironically, before EPB appointed him as Electoral
Prosecutor, Gerardo Solis was involved in managing the
Presidency's discretionary funds.


SLOPPY DEBATE MANAGEMENT
------------------------
4. (SBU) A consortium of print and television media
collaborated with the Panamanian Foundation for Ethics and
Civism to produce and broadcast the second of three debates
between Panama's four presidential candidates. A panel of
four print and television journalists sitting at a small
conference table queried the candidates on what they would do
to address unemployment, corruption, the administration of
justice, and Panama's ailing Social Security Fund.
Unfortunately, debate moderator Father Manuel Santiago
Blanquer failed to control the interaction, allowing
candidates' outbursts to become mini-monologues. Nor did
Blanquer accurately monitor the 90-second time allotment for
each candidate, erring most often in Martin Torrijos' favor
and twice interrupting Jose Miguel Aleman when he was
entitled to more time.


MORE SLAMS THAN PROPOSALS
-------------------------
5. (SBU) Candidates failed to offer concrete proposals about
what they would do if elected, offering only vague promises
about how they would reduce unemployment, the most common
concern among Panamanians. All four candidates agreed that
developing the tourism sector would help combat unemployment.
While Martinelli recommended reforming the Labor Code, thus
spurring micro-entrepreneurs to hire new employees, Aleman
said the key was education, Torrijos focused on training, and
Endara insisted on reducing corruption to attract
job-creating foreign investment. All four candidates waffled
in response to a follow-up question on whom they would fire
when they took office, stating only that they would get rid
of inefficient or unnecessary staff.


6. (SBU) When the topic switched to means for ensuring the
judicial branch's integrity and a fair administration of
justice, Aleman attacked Endara for not reforming the
constitution during his presidency (1989-94). Endara
rejected the claim, pointing out he only respected popular
will when Panama's voters rejected his constitutional reform
proposal in a 1992 referendum. The four candidates all said
that no one should be above the law and Martinelli brashly
stated that justice can be bought in Panama. Torrijos'
response to both the initial and follow-up questions was to
criticize the manner in which President Moscoso selected
Supreme Court Magistrates loyal to her, implying that they
were obedient to her thereafter. On previous occasions, all
four candidates have advocated reforms to de-politicize the
selection process for Supreme Court Justices. (NOTE: A
subsequent poll claimed that Torrijos had "won" the debate,
although the statistics suggested that opinions broke down
according to party preferences. END NOTE.)


LOOK AT ME! I'M THE MOST TRANSPARENT
------------------------------------
7. (SBU) Having announced his plans during the March 16
debate, Aleman presented a sworn declaration of his assets to
the Ombudsman's office on March 18. Jose Miguel Aleman's
challenge to his opponents to do the same serves three
purposes. First, Aleman's move helps him question the wealth
of campaign front-runner Martin Torrijos of the Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD). Second, due to the PRD's alliance
with the Partido Popular (PP), the declaration is a jab at
Ombudsman Juan A. Tejada and several of his chief
lieutenants, all former PP activists, in retaliation for
their persistent complaints about President Moscoso's lack of
transparency. Finally, being more transparent than Moscoso
is part of Aleman's thus far unsuccessful effort to distance
himself from her, so Torrijos can no longer accuse him of
"hiding behind her skirt" as he did during the debate.
(NOTE: Presidents and cabinet-level Panamanian officials must
submit such a statement to the Comptroller General upon entry
and departure from office, but the requirement does not
extend to candidates. END NOTE.)


8. (SBU) CD candidate Ricardo Martinelli lists his campaign
contributors on his website, a pledge he made when he began
campaigning. While trying to prove his credibility as
someone who would fight corruption from the Presidency,
Martinelli stated during the March 16 debate that corruption
starts with campaign donors expecting something in exchange
for their contribution. Although both other opposition
candidates have approached the Embassy regarding questionable
campaign donors, only Martinelli has published a list on the
internet. Critics would say that Martinelli has nothing to
lose by publishing his list of donors as he has little chance
of winning Panama's May 2 election. Nonetheless, while not
enough to put him over the top, Panamanians welcome
Martinelli's transparency when it comes to campaign
donations. Martinelli was also the first candidate to
formally present an anti-corruption plan to Panama's chapter
of Transparency International, which Aleman did this week.


WHY WOULD OAS OBSERVE PANAMA'S ELECTION?
----------------------------------------
9. (SBU) Several diplomatic missions to Panama share this
Embassy's skepticism about the need for external OAS election
observers, expecting a free and clean vote. OAS' Panama
office contacted foreign diplomatic missions in Panama, as
well as local IDB and UNDP offices during the week of March
8 on behalf of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy
(UPD) to request funds (reftel A) and convoke a March 17
coordination meeting. UPD proposed a $130K budget for a
short-term observation mission consisting of 8 OAS experts
(elections, IT, training, etc.) and 12 foreign observers.
UPD representatives at the meeting explained that their
proposed mission would fit a new model, that of extracting
helpful lessons from Panama's electoral process to apply
elsewhere. The breadth and scope of the mission will depend
on the sum of contributions. So far, Brazil has contributed
the only funds in the pot, $10,000.


10. (SBU) Representatives of several diplomatic missions,
including Mexico, Japan, and Argentina, all noted that they
would prefer to observe Panama's elections at the invitation
of the Electoral Tribunal rather than as part of an official
OAS delegation. Diplomatic representatives present at the
March 17 meeting were not concerned about any
election-related problems arising in Panama. For instance,
though not present at the meeting, the British First
Secretary for Political Affairs will be on vacation during

SIPDIS
the elections. Officials from the Japanese Embassy contacted
our Pol Counselor after the meeting to inquire about the
USG's position on the election, including funding external
observers. Pol Counselor responded that Embassy is confident
that the electoral process will continue without major
hiccups and it is unlikely that the USG would fund an OAS
observer mission.


11. (SBU) Embassy will not join the OAS official observer
delegation, but plans to send some 26 mission members to
observe the elections. We plan to coordinate geographic
coverage with OAS and other diplomatic missions via an e-mail
usergroup, checking in with the OAS control center
periodically on election day for any breaking news. This
approach appears to mesh with the plans of other diplomatic
missions with smaller presences in Panama, whose work as
observers will be primarily a vote of confidence in the
Panamanian system. Furthermore, none of the diplomatic
representatives at the March 17 meeting welcomed the OAS
suggestion that Embassies should encourage their citizens
residing in Panama to observe the May 2 elections. Between
the Ombudsman's Office (300) and the Catholic Church's Peace
and Justice Commission (1200), approximately 1,500
Panamanians will also volunteer to observe Panama's
elections, which we believe is adequate coverage.


WATT

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