Cablegate: Panama's May 2 Electoral Process: Nuts and Bolts

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





E.O. 12958:N/A

SUMMARY: General Elections
1. (U) Panama will hold general elections on Sunday, May 2
to elect a total of 1,756 new officials for five-year
terms. Voters will elect a President, two Vice Presidents,
78 legislators (and 156 alternates), 75 mayors (and 150
alternates), 619 local representatives, 7 councilmen, 20
representatives to the Central American Parliament
(PARLACEN) (and 20 alternates). Voting will start promptly
at 7:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Electoral officials have
announced that preliminary national voting results should
be available around 7:00 p.m. on May 2 (8:00 p.m.
Washington time). Up to 1,999,553 registered voters will
vote at Panama's 2,193 voting centers throughout the
country. Up to 1,900 national and international observers,
including 25-30 from the OAS, will be watching the polls on
May 2.

2. (U) Panama has no mandatory voting law, no electronic
voting, and no absentee voting. Panama holds General
Elections every five years on the first Sunday in May. The
President-elect is inaugurated and the Legislative Assembly
holds its first session on September 1, 2004. End Summary.

Voters and Registration
3. (U) Panamanian law stipulates that all adult (at least
18 years-old) citizens of Panama may register to vote,
provided they are within Panamanian territory and not
detained, in jail awaiting trial or convicted. Panama's
electoral code does not allow absentee voting for
Panamanians residing overseas. Although voting is not
mandatory in Panama, voter turnouts have been high in
Panama's previous two general elections. In 1994, 73.7% of
registered Panamanians voted; in 1999, 76.2% voted. Over
55% of Panama's registered voters are between the ages of
18 and 40.

4. (U) The Electoral Tribunal (ET) publishes the official
and final electoral registry ("padron electoral") after
purging duplicate records through careful review and
computer proofreading. Registry entries include every
voter's: (i) complete name, (ii) personal identification
number (cedula), (iii) voting center (based on residence),
and (iv) digital photo. The final electoral registry for
Panama's May 2004 elections contains 1,999,553 registered
voters. The ET has provided every political party a copy
of the final list to maintain the transparency of the
registration process.

Administrative divisions
5. (U) Panama is divided in nine provinces and seven
indigenous reservations, which in turn are divided in 43
electoral districts. Each district elects a mayor, and,
depending on population, between one and seven legislators.
There are 78 total seats at stake in Panama's May 2, 2004
elections for its unicameral Legislative Assembly.
Municipal Councils in each district include the mayor and
local elected representatives.

6. (U) Residents of each "corregimiento" (group of
neighborhoods) elect their local representative, known as
the "representante de corregimiento." Representing the
smallest administrative division, there are a total of 619
corregimientos in Panama, each with a separate
representative. Representantes de corregimiento are
vestiges of Panama's political system under dictator Omar
Torrijos. Torrijos abolished the Legislative Assembly,
forming an Assembly of Local Representatives (ALR) in its
stead. Since the ALR no longer exists, Panamanian
political analysts have called for eliminating the local
representative position.

Political parties
7. (U) Panama has seven legally registered political
parties: Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD), Partido
Popular (PP), Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista
(MOLIRENA), Partido Arnulfista (PA), Partido Solidaridad
(PS), Partido Liberal Nacional (PLN) and Cambio Democratico
(CD). To obtain Electoral Tribunal recognition, a party
must register members totaling at least 4% of the number of
votes cast for President during the most recent election.
To survive a general election, an existing party must win
at least 4% of the votes cast in presidential, legislative,
or local representative balloting. All political parties
must have a name, internal by-laws, government platform and
a distinctive symbol (a flag). Panama's electoral law
prohibits religious symbolism in political party flags.

Official Nominations
8. (U) Parties choose their candidates during primaries or
a National Congress, Assembly or Convention, as stipulated
by their internal by-laws. If a candidate dies or resigns,
his/her first alternate automatically occupies the vacant
candidacy. The opposition PRD was the only party that held
primaries to select its candidates. The other six parties
elected or nominated their candidates through a national
congress or convention.

9. (U) After the Electoral Tribunal closed the official
voter registry on December 31, 2003, Panama's electoral
process officially began with political parties officially
notifying ET of the candidates that they had nominated
between January 2 and February 2, 2004. The process will
end when the ET issues official electoral credentials to
the winners. During the electoral process, the ET
publishes an official electoral calendar by which all
political parties and independent candidates must abide.
Panama's electoral law states that only political parties
can nominate candidates for President or Legislator.
Independent candidates can run for mayoral and local
representative seats.

Electoral calendar
10. (U) Panama's official electoral calendar consists of
the following milestones:

---Oct. 15: Deadline for minors turning 18 years old before
May 2 to renew their "cedulas" at the Electoral Tribunal.
---Oct. 30: Publication of tentative electoral registry
("padron electoral")
---Nov. 1-Nov 30: Term for political parties to challenge
additions to the electoral registry
---Nov. 1: Deadline for appointed GOP officials (cabinet-
level and above) who will run for elected positions to
leave their current jobs.
---Dec 2: ET Officially convokes 2004 elections and swears-
in National Vote-Counting Board
---Dec 2-Feb 2: Independent candidates register.
---Dec 2-Feb 7: Period to challenge independent
---Dec 31: Deadline for Electoral Tribunal to reconcile
electoral registry (e.g. removal of new prison inmates,
latest death reports, etc.)
---January 2: Official initiation of electoral process
---Jan 2-Feb 2: Formal written nominations of candidates
---Feb 1: Deadline for political parties to formally inform
the ET that they intend to participate in the electoral
---Feb 2: ET Publishes final electoral registry ("padron
electoral") and delivers it to political parties
---April 22: Last day to publish public opinion polls.
---April 26: ET officially takes control of Panamanian
National Police (PNP). Control reverts to Ministry of
Government & Justice once the ET officially proclaims the
new President in a ceremony a few days after election day
---April 30: Last day for any kind of political campaigning
and/or advertising. Last day for political talk shows to
air on state-owned TV.
---May 1-3: All bars, clubs, cantinas, and liquor stores
are closed. Sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
---May 2: Election Day
-6:00 a.m. Voting centers set up
-7:00 a.m. Voting centers opened
-4:00 p.m. Voting ends and counting begins
-7:00 p.m. Exit poll results may be broadcast

11. (U) Close to 1,900 national and international
observers will be visiting voting centers and counting
boards on May 2. The largest group will be Panama's
Catholic Church NGO Comision de Justicia y Paz, which will
have 1,500 observers throughout the country. Panama's
Ombudsman Office is coordinating the participation of close
to 300 local observers and will host approximately 15 Latin
American Ombudsmen who will also observe the elections. The
Organization of American States (OAS), with USG financial
support, will send a delegation of 25-27 VIPs. Foreign
diplomats resident in Panama will also cover polling, but
their presence will be limited. Embassy Panama will deploy
approximately 30 observers to 12 different locations, 6 in
metro Panama, and 6 outside the capital.

12. (U) Voting day procedures are well choreographed.
After identifying themselves with personal ID cards
(cedulas), Panamanians who vote on May 2 will each receive
four ballots: one for President, one for legislator, one
for mayor, and one for local representative. The ET is
preparing 5,105 voting tables ("mesas de votacion"),
located in 2,193 voting centers (usually public schools).
Up to 500 voters will be registered at each table. Voting
starts promptly at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. sharp,
after which counting at each table immediately begins.
Accompanied by representatives designated by each political
party, electoral officials painstakingly review ballots one
by one, calling out votes for each elected position.

Vote Counting
13. (U) Once counting has finished (about 1-1.5 hours
after voting ends), volunteer electoral officials at each
"table" enter results on a tally sheet (acta), spelling out
figures to avoid confusion. Then, electoral officials and
party representatives sign the tally sheet. Tally sheets
are essential because there are no recounts in Panama.
Once the tally sheet is completed and signed, electoral
representatives burn the ballots while party
representatives observe. The electoral representatives
then take the tally sheet directly to the District Counting
Board for computing after giving a copy to each party
representative. District Counting Boards pass their
results to their respective Provincial Counting Boards,
which in turn transmit their results to the National
Counting Board ("Junta Nacional de Escrutinio"), located by
law in Panama City. (NOTE: Counting Board Members are
usually CPAs and other professionals who have volunteered
their services and received training and credentials from
the ET. END NOTE.)

Poll Results
14. (U) Despite the laborious counting process, voting
results will be quickly disseminated including the
Electoral Tribunal website (
Electoral officials have announced that preliminary
national voting results should be available around 7:00
p.m. on May 2 (8:00 p.m. Washington time). Rather than
waiting to announce definitive results, electoral officials
plan to broadcast results as they become available.

Security, sobriety, and ad-ban
15. (U) Panama's Electoral Code dictates that the ET
controls the National Police on Election Day. Only on-duty
policemen are authorized to carry weapons on Election Day.
All political advertising and campaigning is prohibited
after noon on April 30. Alcohol sales and consumption must
cease between noon on May 1 and noon on May 3. On Election
Day, while voters may wear hats or t-shirts with political
symbols, distributing political propaganda is forbidden
inside voting centers.


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