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Cablegate: Education, Absenteeism, and Closing Rallies.

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 000892

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: Education, Absenteeism, and Closing Rallies.
Panama Election Countdown #11: 2 Weeks to go.

Ref: A. Panama 0863
B. Panama 0791


Summary/Comment: Almost There
-----------------------------
1. (SBU) Candidates, voters, and electoral officials are
in the home stretch for Panama's May 2 general elections.
The Electoral Tribunal (ET) briefed the diplomatic corps on
elections in an April 13 luncheon presentation with media
present. On April 14, the ET warned the Supreme Court not
to accept the case filed by Minister of the Presidency to
inhibit Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo Solis' investigation
of discretionary Presidency expenditures. The Panama
chapter of Transparency International lamented that high
absenteeism forced Panama's Legislative Assembly to adjourn
until May 3. This week, presidential candidates announced
their closing campaign events. The final presidential
debate is scheduled for Tuesday, April 20. Labor leader
calls for union members to submit void or blank ballots
will likely fall on deaf ears. Embassy sees continued
normal development of the campaign with no areas of
concern. End summary.


President's legal "secret" slush fund continued
--------------------------------------------- --
2. (SBU) Observers are hoping that the Supreme Court
rejects the request that Minister of the Presidency Mirna
Pitti filed with it on 4/13. Pitti's request seeks to ban
Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo Solis from investigating the
President's discretionary expenditures, on constitutional
grounds. Solis told Emboffs that he has postponed all
action until after May 2 so that the case does not become
more politicized. Electoral Tribunal Magistrate Eduardo
Valdes marked his territory with acrid 4/14 statements to
the press that the Supreme Court should not meddle in
electoral affairs.


3 (SBU) COMMENT: In terms of context, most Panamanians
believe President Moscoso controls the Supreme Court, to
which she appointed five of nine sitting Justices, all but
one with close political ties to her. In this instance,
Valdes' ire relates to the Court's "stealing" from the
Electoral Tribunal the earlier case involving the appeal by
Legislator Carlos Afu of his expulsion from the PRD.
Constitutional scholars assert that the Supreme Court
should only have reviewed the Afu case after the Electoral
Tribunal issued a ruling. These scholars say that the
Supreme Court should reject Pitti's case. As in the Afu
case, former Electoral and Court officials insist that
Pitti may only pursue a Supreme Court case if Solis'
investigation yields an Electoral Tribunal ruling that
Pitti believes violates her constitutional rights. Solis
is well within his constitutional mandate, they add. END
COMMENT


Electoral training for Diplomatic Corps
---------------------------------------
4. (U) Emboffs attended a 4/13 Electoral Tribunal (ET)
presentation/lunch offered to educate members of the
diplomatic corps about Panama's May 2 elections. In
addition to explaining the electoral law, the ET provided
sample ballots, described safeguards to prevent fraud (ref.
A) and invited foreign diplomats to observe the voting
(ref. B). ET officials also announced international and
national observers who will cover Panama's May 2 elections.
In addition to 25-30 member OAS observer delegation,
approximately 15 Ombudsmen from other Latin American
countries will observer May 2 voting. About 1,500
Panamanian observers from the Catholic Church's Peace and
Justice Commission and 300 from the Panamanian Ombudsman's
office will also observe voting. Approximately 30 Embassy
observers will cover 12 different sites, six in Metro
Panama, where nearly half of Panama's voting population
resides, and the other six outside the capital.


Where are all the Legislators?
------------------------------
5. (SBU) Electoral campaigning has paralyzed the
Legislative Assembly as many legislators seeking re-
election and staffers running for office have taken leave
from their official duties, leaving the body in the hands
of the very few alternates who show up. Assembly President
Jacobo Salas (Arnulfista), and Budget Committee Chairman
Arnulfista Alcibiades Vasquez (Arnulfista), pleaded with
their colleagues to attend legislative sessions to no
avail. So little was accomplished earlier this week that
Assembly management postponed sessions until May 3. To
compensate for lost time, legislators are supposed to work
all Fridays and Saturdays until the Assembly adjourns on
June 30. Civil society representatives, most notably
Transparency International (TI) Panama Chapter's Executive
Director Angelica Maytin have asked Panamanians to take
absenteeism into account when voting on May 2.


TI-Panama to publish candidates' backgrounds
--------------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Panama's Chapter of Transparency International
(TI) plans to broadcast biographical information about
presidential candidates and other candidates, as well as
information about their proposed policies. TI sent
candidates a questionnaire with an April 15 deadline, then
published a 4/14 ad in local media reminding candidates
that hadn't submitted information to do so and listing
their names. The list included, among others, presidential
candidates Martin Torrijos (PRD-PP) and Ricardo Martinelli
(CD). A PRD source called the long and detailed
questionnaire "ridiculous." Source told Embassy that
Torrijos was adamantly against responding because, "it felt
as if he were confessing to the Pope."


Final Campaign Rallies
-----------------------
7. (U) Presidential candidates have announced
traditionally massive campaign closing rallies. The two
largest coalitions have made the most complex plans.
Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman announced at a
press conference that his alliance has planned a large
caravan in Panama City on Sunday, April 18 and will top off
their campaign on Sunday, April 25 at a large Panama City
gathering. Unfazed by financial constraints, PRD-PP Martin
Torrijos will hold several regional events to top off his
campaign. Also on 4/25, Torrijos will close his campaign
in the western province of Chiriqui. Torrijos will then
close in Panama City on 4/28. He is considering other
final events in other parts of the country.


8. (U) Panama's two one-party candidates have also
discussed their plans for final campaign events.
Solidarity presidential candidate Guillermo Endara, who has
run a frugal campaign due to lack of funds, decided not to
hold a large event in a single venue, but will stage a six-
day caravan beginning in the Western Province of Chiriqui
and ending in the Atlantic Province of Colon, apparently an
Endara stronghold. During the caravan, Endara plans to
visit 29 communities. Cambio Democratico Ricardo
Martinelli hasn't announced specific plans yet, but his
associates have suggested that he will do something
unconventional. Critics have speculated that Martinelli
might refrain from hosting a large event to avoid the
embarrassment of a weak turnout.


Unions call for void/blank votes
--------------------------------
9. (SBU) In another demonstration of their lack of civic
responsibility, Panama's union leaders have called on their
members to either void their vote or submit a blank ballot
on May 2. They're protesting the arrest of SUNTRACS leader
Gerardo Lopez after a recent fracas at the Ministry of
Labor where SUNTRACS was seeking to establish a legal
personality for a new union of workers on the Southern
Corridor highway. Unions in Panama are poorly organized,
but have the strongest pull in the construction and
transportation sectors, where they seek to protect vested
interests. (COMMENT: The Cuban-funded SUNTRACS blocked
streets to protest the ouster of former CSS director Juan
Jovane in September 2003. Since Panama's vote is secret
and unions are poorly organized, Embassy does not expect
any major adherence to this call.)


MCMULLEN

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