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Cablegate: Rallies, a Ceremony, and Transition Planning.

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 000995

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM


E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: Rallies, a ceremony, and transition planning.
Panama Election Countdown #13: 2 days to go.


Ref: A. Panama 0975
B. Panama 0936


Summary/Comment: Almost Showtime
--------------------------------
1. (SBU) Presidential candidates staged campaign closing
rallies throughout the final week before Panama's Sunday,
May 2 General Elections. EmbOffs met OAS observers to
discuss Election Day plans on April 27. Electoral
authorities announced final logistical arrangements and
accepted control of Panama's Public Forces from President
Moscoso in an April 26 protocol ceremony. On Election Day,
Embassy will log and report observer feedback from the field
and keep Washington abreast of preliminary and final
results, as well as provide background on the presidential
and vice-presidential winners.


Aleman's last shebang
---------------------
2. (SBU) In a packed but listless gathering in downtown
Panama City, the Administration-backed alliance candidate,
Arnulfista Jose Miguel Aleman held his final rally on
Sunday, April 24. While the event was crowded and colorful,
the masses liked the concerts more than the speeches. At
least 200,000 Arnulfista, National Liberal Republican
(MOLIRENA) and Liberal National Party (PLN) followers were
bussed in from throughout the country to participate.
Responding to PRD claims that the Arnulfistas would try to
manipulate voting results (an extremely remote scenario),
Aleman shot back that the PRD were the "masters of electoral
fraud" and insisted that Arnulfistas be attentive on
Election Day.


3. (SBU) First Presidential candidate Jesus Rosas reminded
the multitudes of the opposition PRD's history of
wrongdoing, even mentioning names of people who disappeared
during the military regime of late General Omar Torrijos,
Martin Torrijos' father. EmbOffs spoke to several GOP
authorities at the event, many of whom were surprisingly
enthusiastic about an Aleman win. On the other hand, GOP
legislative candidates were positive about being re-elected,
but confided that Aleman's is losing on their turf.


Torrijos says "yes we can"
-------------------------
4. (SBU) As well as successful 4/24 and 4/25 rallies
outside the capital, Martin Torrijos and the PRD staged an
energetic 4/28 campaign-closing rally in the same Panama
City venue that their Administration opponent Jose Miguel
Aleman used just 3 days earlier. PolOff spoke to several
Torrijos team members at the event, who were unanimously
optimistic about a Torrijos win and relieved that the
campaign is almost over. None of the mud that opponents
have thrown at Torrijos in the past weeks has stuck, they
claimed. Everyone, including Torrijos supporter, salsa
superstar, and aspiring cabinet member Ruben Blades, used
the campaign slogan "yes we can" (si se puede in Spanish) to
animate the crowd.


5. (SBU) Martin's speech was full of crowd-pleasing sound
bites, but many critics, particularly his Arnulfista
opponents, considered it devoid of substance. Torrijos took
aim at the Arnulfistas, but insisted that he wants to defeat
corruption, poverty, and unemployment, not just the
Arnulfistas. Torrijos' evident appeal to the crowd of over
100,000 (but not bussed in from other parts of the country)
exceeded that of highly popular Panama City Mayor Juan
Carlos Navarro, who spoke first. Martin's support among
young Panamanians is unmatched by any of his opponents.
Several PRD legislative candidates in their early 30s
remarked to PolOff that they represent the new face of the
PRD. One expressed concern that, much like in the U.S.,
young Panamanians are most likely not to vote. (Comment:
The untested supposition is that they would vote for
Torrijos if they do show up at the polls. End Comment.)


Endara tops off his tank
------------------------
6. (SBU) Former President Guillermo Endara refuted claims
by his Arnulfista and PRD opponents that he is physically
and electorally weak. Garnering popular support for his
frugal campaign, Solidarity candidate Guillermo Endara ended
his six-day caravan on April 27 in Colon, his strongest
province, by repeating that he is not beholden to campaign
donors, unlike his opponents. Endara, who started the
caravan in the Western Province of Chiriqui, transited the
provinces of Veraguas, Herrera, Los Santos, Cocle, and
Panama before arriving in Colon. Though not a glitzy
extravaganza, Endara's caravan drew a significant following
along its course despite a slow start. Turnout in Colon was
strong, but small compared to Torrijos and Aleman's Panama
City rallies.


7. (SBU) Panamanians old enough to remember Endara's
presidency tend to recall him fondly, identify with his
"ordinary guy" image and respect his reputation for honesty.
Random EmbOff taxi-driver polls still show him as the
frontrunner. In his final speech, Endara shouted, "I'm
going to win damn it!" ("Voy a ganar, carajo!") That sort
of vulgarity is an advantage with Panamanian masses, but
cause for others to worry about the international image that
Endara would project. In his promise to be accountable,
Endara told voters to "yank on my ears," ("jalar mis
orejas") if as President he does not live up to his campaign
promises.


OAS Observers discuss plans with Embassy
----------------------------------------
8. (SBU) Chief of OAS' Observer mission to Panama Moises
Benamor met Ambassador Watt on 4/27 to discuss observation
plans. The OAS intends to focus on two issues: (i) hard to
access areas of the country, and (ii) the role of collective
actors like the government, the political parties, and the
press in the electoral process. In addition to a quick-
count for TE consumption of presidential votes, the OAS will
interview voters and electoral officials on their views
about the electoral process. Benamor and his colleagues
also trained OAS international observers and Panamanian
electoral authorities on election observation. Emboffs
exchanged numbers with Benamor and his team and will
communicate with the OAS delegation throughout Election Day.


TE in command of Panama's Public Forces
---------------------------------------
9. (SBU) On 4/26, President Moscoso and Minister of
Government and Justice Arnulfo Escalona transferred control
over Panama's Public Forces (National Police (PNP), National
Maritime Service (SMN), National Air Service (SAN) and the
Institutional Protection Service (SPI)) to the Electoral
Tribunal (TE) in a ceremony attended by the entire Moscoso
cabinet as well as political party and Public Forces
representatives. As set forth in Electoral Code Article 197
control over Public Forces will revert to the executive
branch after the TE has issued credentials to the President-
elect (usually a few days after Election Day). This part of
Panama's electoral process is a holdover of the transition
from dictatorship to democracy. Since the TE has
coordinated every step of the electoral process with the
Public Forces, the transfer ceremony was just a formality.


Final Electoral Data
--------------------
10. (U) Panama's seven political parties have accredited
57,766 of their members nationwide to represent them at the
polls. Also, 20,124 electoral volunteers will staff polls
throughout the country. The Electoral Tribunal (TE) has
hired, trained, and accredited 4,162 management and support
staff and 3,243 members of vote counting boards. Finally
the TE has rented 7 helicopters, 5 small planes, 8 large
boats, 160 smaller boats, 1,219 horses and 1,843 vehicles to
transport staff and materials on election weekend.


Moscoso promises smooth transition
----------------------------------
11. (SBU) President Mireya Moscoso announced that soon
after Election Day she would appoint a commission to
coordinate transition issues with the President-elect's
representatives. Former President Endara appointed a 1994
transition commission that worked closely with his
successor, Ernesto Perez Balladares (EPB), but EPB did not
do the same in 1999 for Moscoso representatives. Perez
Balladares' commission ignored meeting and information
requests, generating a bitter transition. EPB even used the
Legislative Assembly he controlled to pass a law exempting
him from attending Moscoso's inauguration. (Note: Prior to
1999, the outgoing President participated in installing the
new President by transferring the official sash and
delivering a farewell speech. End Note.) When the Moscoso
government took over they found erased hard drives in
several government offices and had to hire computer
specialists to restore lost data. (Comment: Embassy plans to
press GOP leaders to fulfill Moscoso's pledge to ensure a
smooth transition.)


WATT

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