Cablegate: Panama: Arnulfistas Lose Legislative Seat to Prd.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002363
DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2014
TAGS: PGOV PM POL FOREIGN POL
SUBJECT: PANAMA: ARNULFISTAS LOSE LEGISLATIVE SEAT TO PRD.
LOSER MAY FACE MORE TROUBLE.
REF: PANAMA 1224
Classified By: Ambassador Linda E. Watt for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)
SUMMARY: CASTILLO DEFEATS MILANES
1. (SBU) Geovany Castillo of President Torrijos' Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD) defeated Arnulfista Party (PA)
legislative incumbent Haydee Milanes de Lay by an 11% margin
in 9/12 partial elections in Panama's easternmost province of
Darien. Castillo will represent the La Palma region
(electoral circuit 5-1) in Panama's Legislative Assembly.
Milanes won the seat in the May 2, 2004 general election, but
the Electoral Tribunal annulled her election due to
indications that she had used government funds to "purchase
votes," thus gaining an unfair advantage. With the Castillo
win, the PRD/Popular Party (PP) legislative majority has
increased from 42 to 43 (42 PRD 1 PP) of 78 legislators.
The PA has the largest minority contingent of 16 and the
remaining 19 legislators from four other parties have united
to form a single front. Barring major PRD defections to the
opposition, the PRD/PP coalition should have smooth sailing
for the near future. The Castillo win opens the door for a
new investigation of Milanes, exactly what Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis has proposed. END SUMMARY.
WHAT DID MILANES DO?
2. (C/NF) Haydee Milanes de Lay won the May 2004 election in
all probability thanks to the use of public funds to
encourage voters to support her. The brief that Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis submitted to Panama's three
Electoral Magistrates (based on evidence that Geovany
Castillo collected) asserts that Milanes benefited from the
emission of National Bank of Panama (BNP) checks issued
immediately prior to the May 2 election by the La Palma
Community Council. According to media reports, an estimated
600 of those checks were cashed the day after the election.
One Electoral Magistrate told EmbOffs that Solis' brief
indicted wrongdoing, but did not contain sufficient evidence
to convict Milanes of an electoral crime. While there is no
way to know the exact correlation between the BNP checks and
Milanes' win, the Electoral Tribunal annulled her election
because she only defeated Castillo on May 2 by 148 votes.
COMMENT: WILL MILANES LOSE MORE THAN HER SEAT?
3. (C) Critics have lambasted the Electoral Tribunal (TE)
decision not to proceed with formal charges against Milanes,
but all they had to do was wait. On September 13, Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis requested that the TE lift Milanes'
immunity to authorize an investigation based on new evidence
presented to his office. Solis considers immaterial the fact
that President Moscoso "pardoned" Milanes "for any crime for
which she was being investigated" in August 2004 since a new
investigation, by definition, wouldn't have been ongoing at
the time of the August 2004 pardon. Solis' decision to
investigate Milanes (an Arnulfista) may not be thoroughly
objective due to his strong PRD affiliation before becoming
Electoral Prosecutor. Based on an argument that neither the
PRD nor the PP raised, Solis also sought (unsuccessfully) to
have the Electoral Tribunal transfer a seat to the PRD that
it had awarded to the PP in May 2004 based on a written
PRD/PP agreement (which differed from the formula stipulated
in Panama's convoluted electoral law).
4. (C) Particularly as they approach the second semester
2006 end of their ten-year terms, none of the Electoral
Magistrates are looking to anger the political class. (NOTE:
The executive, legislative, and judicial branch each appoint
one Electoral Magistrate. END NOTE.) Prosecuting Milanes
for an electoral crime could spur the Arnulfistas to
blacklist the magistrates for re-appointment and would have
opened a Pandora's box for the TE. "Why," critics would ask,
"did Gerardo Solis not investigate the PRD candidates accused
of buying votes?" They might also ask why the TE didn't
further investigate other cases of vote-buying on behalf of
Arnulfista candidates, including one instance in the
heavily-populated San Miguelito district of Panama City where
businessmen admitted having bought and distributed
supermarket gift certificates to voters less than a month
before the election. Unfortunately, the latter
transgressions, albeit thoroughly unethical, did not violate