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Cablegate: Panama's Election Campaign: Aleman May Be Counting

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 000810

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN: ALEMAN MAY BE COUNTING
ON THE AZUERO, BUT IT IS NOT MUCH TO COUNT


-------
Summary
-------


1. (U) PolOffs recently toured Panama's Herrera and Los
Santos provinces, meeting with Herrera's Electoral Tribunal
Regional Director Hector Paulette, Arnulfista Party
legislative challenger Pacifico Escalona and Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) Herrera elections coordinator Reynaldo
Salerno. Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, native
daughter of Pedasi, Los Santos, has spent nearly every
weekend during her term in the region, making it an even
greater Arnulfista stronghold than before. Arnulfista
legislative candidates should win at least three seats out of
the two provinces' six. If Arnulfista legislative candidates
do well in the May 2 general elections, Arnulfista
presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman could eke out a win
in the Azuero. Many voters will vote Arnulfista for
legislature but could choose PRD presidential candidate
Martin Torrijos for president.


----------
Background
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2. (U) Among Panama's smallest provinces, Herrera and Los
Santos (on the country's southwestern Azuero peninsula), only
account for 4.0% and 3.5% of the national electorate,
respectively. In this rugged, cattle ranching part of the
country, Panama's Liberal parties (in the European sense)
have traditionally won at the polls. These include the
Arnulfista Party and the National Liberal Republican Movement
(MOLIRENA). Speaking with local Latino farmers, an observer
notes continued animosity toward deceased dictator General
Omar Torrijos' long-past, heavy-handed policies. His
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is popular only in
isolated pockets. In 1999, Panamanian President Mireya
Moscoso, native daughter of Pedasi, Los Santos, won the
Azuero by a whopping 11,248 votes, running against native son
PRD presidential candidate (then and now) Martin Torrijos
from Chitre, Herrera. Three of the region's legislators are
Arnulfistas; two are PRD; and one is from the Solidarity
Party. Each province has three legislators.


-----------------
Reverse Coattails
-----------------


3. (SBU) PolOffs met with Arnulfista legislative challenger
Pacifico Escalona (former Governor of Herrera and brother of
Minister of Government and Justice (MOGJ) Arnulfo Escalona),
who is running against Solidarity legislative incumbent
Alberto Magno Castillero. According to Menalco Solis,
campaign manager for Solidarity's presidential candidate
Guillermo Endara, Castillero is popular in the circuit, and
Solidarity is counting on him to win. However, the
Arnulfistas' Escalona is carpet bombing the circuit with
posters on every electric pole and radio advertisements
averaging every few minutes. He claimed that his internal
polls show him way ahead Castillero. Admittedly, Escalona
appears strong, particularly with the 18-30 age group, which
accounts for about 50% of the Azuero vote, according to
Herrera's Electoral Tribunal Regional Director Hector
Paulette.


4. (SBU) PRD Herrera elections coordinator Reynaldo Salerno
reluctantly agreed with Escalona's confident assessment.
According to both Arnulfista and PRD contacts, Arnulfista
legislative candidates Escalona, Jose Luis "Popi" Varela and
Carlos Afu are sure to win. Escalona and Salerno also agreed
that one PRD candidate is a shoo-in. A fourth Arnulfista is
a favorite for the region's fifth slot, and a coalition
partner MOLIRENA challenger is in a close race for the sixth.
Torrijos plans to fight back in the Azuero with several
scheduled visits in the campaign's remaining month, including
a closing campaign rally.


5. (SBU) Arnulfista presidential hopeful Jose Miguel Aleman,
according to his campaign manager Carlos Raul Piad, is
counting on an apparent legislative "full house" to sweep him
to victory in Herrera and Los Santos, where the electorate
traditionally votes for the entire party slate. However,
Aleman's registered party base (his floor) only accounts for
about 20% of the Herrera electorate and 25% of the Los Santos
electorate, slightly below the PRD's registered party base.
Three of the Arnulfista legislative candidates have no
political allegiance to Aleman (much less personal or
professional scruples) and are not pushing supporters to vote
for the top of their ticket. Panamanian President Mireya
Moscoso has a personal stake in two of the Arnulfistas and
has spent political capital on the third; however, her
support for Aleman has been ineffective thus far. Many
independent voters (about half of the Azuero electorate) are
expected to vote Arnulfista for legislature but then vote
Torrijos (or no one at all) for president.


MCMULLEN

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