Cablegate: Observers, a Non-Debate, More Polls, and Some
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 000936
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM and USOAS/SNEFF
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: Observers, a non-debate, more polls, and some
caravans. Panama Election Countdown #12: 1 Week to go.
Ref: A. Panama 0896
B. Panama 0892
C. Panama 0886
Summary/Comment: Activity up. Still no problems
1. (SBU) As campaigning hits a feverish pace, candidates
Torrijos and Endara decided to skip the final, April 20
debate. Two final public opinion polls with conflicting
results have generated controversy, as has another group of
Endara supporters who made their support publicly known.
The Electoral Tribunal (ET) announced that it has completed
85% of the necessary preparations for the May 2 elections.
At the same time, observers are making the final
arrangements for their May 2 assignments. Amid the
blistering array of activity, Embassy has yet to note any
elements of significant concern. Emboffs will cover final
campaign events this weekend and next week.
Election Day preparations 85% complete
2. (U) The Electoral Tribunal announced that they have
completed 85% of the necessary preparations for the May 2
General Elections. Twenty-seven electoral committees have
carried out their assigned tasks, detailed in the General
Election Plan. Those tasks have included arranging
transportation for voting materials and officials, training
volunteer electoral officials to administer voting and
vote-counting, establishing a nationwide communications
network to transmit voting results, and informing voters
how to register and how to vote.
Observers preparing & arriving
3. (SBU) International and domestic observers are
preparing for their May 2 role. During a two-day program
funded by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights,
the Electoral Tribunal trained observers from Panama's
Ombudsman's Office on electoral processes in Panama and
other related issues. Embassy's 28 volunteer observers
gathered for a group training and orientation session on
Friday 4/23. Also, three representatives from the Japanese
Embassy will observe Panama's elections. Finally, team
leaders of the OAS observer mission arrived in Panama on
Wednesday, 4/21. The rest of the 30-member delegation
arrives next week. Ambassador Watt will meet with OAS
representatives on Tuesday 4/27.
Torrijos and Endara skip national debate
4. (SBU) When the two leading candidates declined at the
last minute to participate in a highly anticipated April 20
national debate, only the three smallest TV networks
(Catholic Church, Evangelical Church and the state-owned TV
channel) covered it. Evidently fearing the last debate
could dent his frontrunner status, PRD-PP candidate and
poll leader Martin Torrijos announced his decision on April
19. His campaign coordinator said he withdrew to avoid
unfair attacks from the other candidates as in the previous
debate. For instance, Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel
Aleman "reminded" Torrijos of a controversial presidential
pardon he co-signed while briefly acting as Government and
Justice Vice Minister during the Perez Balladares
administration, and of extensive PRD embezzlement from the
Social Security Fund during the military dictatorship.
5. (SBU) The other candidates reacted quickly to Torrijos'
move. Endara, second in all polls, followed Torrijos' lead
and added that he "did not want to waste his time" with the
remaining two candidates. Endara made fun of Torrijos'
"weaknesses" and called him a "crybaby" (lloron). Endara
said there was no use debating with the other two
candidates since "they have no chance to win." Arnulfista
candidate Jose Miguel Aleman said Torrijos' position was
disrespectful to voters. Aleman continued that he would
honor his commitment to the Panamanian people and
participate in the debate. CD Martinelli remarked that
Torrijos "couldn't care less" ("no le importa tres
pepinos") about the people and suggested that if Torrijos
had backed out in such a manner from a "cock fighting pit"
("gallera") he would have been "stabbed" ("acuchillado").
6. (SBU) Sources indicated that the Arnulfistas might have
been planning during the April 20 debate to "break" the
story of a 1985 drug-related kidnapping to which Torrijos'
opponents have tried to link him. (Note: The story finally
did break on April 22 and will be reported Septel. For
background, see reftel A. End Note.) While civil society
leaders criticized Endara and Torrijos for not living up to
their pledge to participate, media across the board only
justified Torrijos' absence. The Arnulfistas then held a
press conference (which no TV channel broadcast) accusing
Torrijos of "being afraid of his past." For the second
time, Arnulfistas distributed CDs containing copies of
Public Ministry records on the case to press
representatives. Except for the Catholic Church Channel's
news (which barely mentioned the case) no other media
reported the story.
The final polls
7. (U) Two polls were published this week with very
different results. La Prensa's Ditcher & Neira poll
continues to show PRD-PP candidate Martn Torrijos well in
the lead at 47%, followed by Solidarity candidate Guillermo
Endara at 28%, each one point down from the week before.
Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman, a distant third at
19%, was the only candidate whose popularity increased
since the last month (16%). Fourth place Cambio
Democratico (CD) candidate Ricardo Martinelli ended up at
6%, also losing a point. In a paid advertising insert in
Panama dailies, the Arnulfistas published the first and
only poll that showed their candidate, Jose Miguel Aleman,
winning. That poll shows Aleman winning with 39.7% of the
vote, followed by Torrijos at 38.1%, Guillermo Endara at
14.3%, and CD Ricardo Martinelli at 3.5%. Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis opened an investigation into this
poll because Electoral Tribunal regulations requiring that
polling methodology are certified before results are
published. The dailies that published the poll could each
be fined up to $25,000.
8. (U) As stipulated in Panama's electoral law, Thursday,
April 22 was the deadline for publishing public opinion
polls. The measure is intended to prevent candidates from
using doctored polls to influence voters. The Electoral
Tribunal is looking to strengthen the democratic system by
encouraging Panamanians to cast informed votes rather than
just voting for the frontrunner, or the number two if the
frontrunner is unattractive. Anyone publishing polls after
April 22 will be fined.
Aleman and Endara stage caravans
9. (U) On Sunday, April 18, Arnufista candidate Jose
Miguel Aleman and his coalition allies staged a caravan
along key avenues of Panama City. The caravan, with
approximately 14,000 vehicles, surpassed Aleman's own
estimate of possibly 7,000 cars. No serious incidents were
reported despite the fact that the caravan passed Endara
and Torrijos supporters. The Endara supporters were
actively campaigning for their candidates along part of the
Arnulfistas' route. Followers of Martin Torrijos actually
came out of their residences with PRD-PP paraphernalia to
taunt those participating in the caravan.
10. (SBU) Solidarity candidate Guillermo Endara decided
not to hold a large public gathering to top off his
campaign, opting instead for a six-day caravan through 29
communities from the Western province of Chiriqui on the
Pacific coast to the Atlantic province of Colon. The
caravan began with a poor turnout on April 22 in Puerto
Armuelles, Chiriqui. Endara team sources in Chiriqui
recently told PolOff, "we've got no chance in Puerto
Armuelles." One of Solidarity's legislative candidates,
Mayra Fuentes, was an active PRD member until the PRD's
alliance with the Partido Popular (PP) frustrated her bid
for a legislative candidacy, prompting her to defect to
Endara's camp. Fuentes had also backed recently ousted and
thoroughly disliked labor leader Jose Morris in a bitter
dispute over control of the region's banana production.
Rift in MOLIRENA
11. (U) The National Liberal Republican Movement
(MOLIRENA) is considering expelling five party members who
have expressed public support for Solidarity Party
presidential candidate Guillermo Endara instead of
MOLIRENA's "official" candidate, Jose Miguel Aleman.
(Party by-laws allow expulsion of those who disobey Party
guidance.) The members to be expelled are Raymundo Hurtado
Lay, a former legislator and until recently Panama's
Ambassador to Paraguay; Gisela Chung, a former legislator
and until recently Panama's diplomatic representative to
the People's Republic of China; Plutarco Arrocha, former
Governor of Panama Province and former Consul General in
Vietnam; Luis B. Rosas, a former Deputy Comptroller General
and Marilyn Vallarino, sister of Panama's current Vice
President, Arturo Vallarino. Hurtado, Chung, Arrocha and
Rosas all served their first public offices under President
Guillermo Endara (1989-1994). COMMENT: When Guillermo
"Billy" Ford joined the Endara Team, his departure from
MOLIRENA accentuated an existing division in the party.
The five siding with Endara show Ford's continued pull
within MOLIRENA, as well as the "defectors'" support for