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Cablegate: Panama's Arnulfista Party: Electoral Shellacking

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002641

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: PANAMA'S ARNULFISTA PARTY: ELECTORAL SHELLACKING
SPURS CALLS FOR REFORM


REF: A. PANAMA 1047
B. PANAMA 1963


Classified By: Charge Christopher J. McMullen for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)


SUMMARY: ELECTORAL DEFEAT = REFORM DEMANDS
------------------------------------------

1. (C) Up-and-coming Arnulfista Party (PA) leaders will not
wait for Party President Mireya Moscoso to complete her term
in January 2006 before trying to rebuild the party, ideally
minus her. After the PA's meager third-place finish (16.4%
of popular vote) in Panama's May 2004 presidential election
and woeful showing of only 16 of 78 legislative seats,
Moscoso opponents are calling for her head. She probably
will not survive the party's January 2005 national
convention. Numerous corruption scandals during Mireya
Moscoso's 1999-2004 presidency violated the letter and spirit
of her campaign promises to clean up Panamanian politics, and
led the Party's coalition to disastrous defeat at the polls.
Meanwhile, Moscoso's iron-fisted control of the party bred
many enemies. Among the Young Turks, Juan Carlos Varela has
been her most vocal opponent. Brothers Francisco and Marco
Ameglio are also pushing for reform. Legislator Jose Isabel
Blandon and PA Secretary General Carlos Raul Piad have
approached the situation more delicately, but also with an
eye toward reform. The reformers, who claim to have broad
support within the party, call for making PA bodies and
procedures more democratic and transparent by removing Mireya
Moscoso as PA President and renaming the PA as "Partido
Panamenista." They differ on which measure to prioritize and
how to time reforms. Embassy expects major changes in PA
leadership and structure at its January 16, 2005 convention.
END SUMMARY.


PUSHING AND ACCELERATING REFORM
-------------------------------

2. (C) Second-term legislator Jose Isabel Blandon Figueroa
claims credit for including a constitutional clause last July
requiring Panama's political parties to have "democratic
structures" in the reform package now before the Legislative
Assembly, but he is not pushing hard for Moscoso's ouster.
Blandon wants the Arnulfista Party to hold mandatory
primaries for all elected positions and internal elections
for party leadership positions. Blandon privately told POL
specialist in August that he believes PA Board elections
should come sometime after PA bylaws are reformed during the
January 2005 national convention. Blandon told EmbOffs at a
September lunch with other Arnulfista legislators that
Moscoso would step down from her PA Board position prior to
January 2006 only if asked by the PA national convention
delegates. On this issue, Blandon appears to be leaving his
options open.


3. (C) Businessman Juan Carlos Varela's lobbying efforts at
all levels of the party hierarchy make him the most vocal
advocate for removing the current PA Board of Directors
(including Moscoso) well before January 2006. In fact, the
Varelas' faction wants Moscoso out by January 2005. Varela
has proposed that reforms to PA bylaws be implemented as
early as November 28. He recently confided to POL Counselor
that "big changes would happen soon." On 10/20, La Prensa
reported that Legislator Jose Luis Varela (Juan Carlos'
brother) claimed that 70% of Arnulfista convention delegates
were prepared to accept the resignation of the entire PA
Board on November 28. On 10/26, Marco Ameglio presented to
PA Secretary General Carlos Raul Piad a petition signed by
380 of 598 convention delegates (64%, much more than the
legal minimum of 30% established in the Electoral Code) to
hold the PA national convention on November 28 instead of
January 16. Ameglio brothers Marco and Francisco (both
ex-legislators) share the Varelas' desire to remove top party
leadership quickly, but the two camps' allegiance to one
another may well end there. (COMMENT: The Ameglios presented
their petition with Jose Luis Varela, among others; however,
given Marco's well-known desire to run for President, he is
likely to lunge hard into the resulting power vacuum, ready
to fight the Varelas for the 2009 presidential nomination if
Moscoso resigns. END COMMENT.)


COMMENT: WHAT'S IN A NAME?
--------------------------

4. (C) Changing the name of the Arnulfista Party would allow
several well-known outcasts to rejoin the party leadership as
well as rejuvenate the PA's group identity. Between 1999 and
2004, the PA expelled several strong leaders, including
ex-President Guillermo Endara, Juan Carlos Varela, and
Ex-Minister of Agriculture Alejandro Posse. PA bylaws bar
someone who has been expelled from the party from returning.
A new party with a new Board of Directors could welcome all
comers and perhaps build momentum based on mutually shared
opposition to the Torrijos administration. And PA members
have not forgotten that former President Endara (1989-94) won
almost twice as many votes as Moscoso's candidate (Jose
Miguel Aleman) in the May 2 election, votes that PA leaders
want back. Moscoso opponents, including the Ameglios and the
Varelas, believe that a name that evokes a shared mission or
ideology rather than Moscoso's deceased husband Arnulfo Arias
would reinforce their rejection of Moscoso's decision to
follow in the thrice-deposed president's footsteps as a
traditional "caudillo" in the personalist politician mold.
Instead, they seek to make the party a model for democratic
practices (though critics also see a good dose of
personalismo in the ostensible goals of the would-be
reformers.)


COMMENT: SOON, BUT NOT JUST YET
-------------------------------

5. (C) Juan Carlos Varela told POL Counselor that he and the
Ameglios are using the November 2004 convention proposal as a
ploy to avoid any possibility that Moscoso may postpone the
January 16, 2005 convention. Stepping into the trap, Mireya
Moscoso explained in a 10/21 radio interview that, "the Board
of Directors of the Arnulfista Party would have to approve
any proposal to hold the party's extraordinary convention
before the scheduled date of January 16, 2005. No such
proposal has been presented." The Varela/Ameglio faction's
proposal has upped the stakes. After nearly resigning from
the PA Board in May 2004, Moscoso has dug in her heels at the
helm of the party. When asked about the movement to unseat
her and reform the PA as recently as September, she told a
confidant, "This is my party and I rule it!" To Juan Carlos
Varela, Moscoso shouted over the phone, "If you want a war,
then I'll give you a war." Moscoso still has plenty of
influential allies within the party who are willing to back
her right to stay in charge until January 2006 (including
Blandon when it suits him). Her opponents currently claim
60-70% support. While we expect that mounting pressure
within the PA will eventually persuade Moscoso to relinquish
control of the party, we suspect that she will try to play
one faction against the other in order to maintain a modicum
of influence in the party leadership.


MCMULLEN

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