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Cablegate: Panama: 2009 National Election Voter Demographics

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: 2009 NATIONAL ELECTION VOTER DEMOGRAPHICS

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SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Panama is gearing up for the May 3, 2009 general
election, in which Panamanians will choose all of their
elected leaders - from President through National Assembly
Deputies to mayors and city councilmen -- for a five-year
term. The Tribunal Electoral (TE) released on May 25 the
preliminary voter registry, painting a picture of the 2.1
million strong members of the voting-eligible public for
whose attention the candidates will vie. The ruling
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is in the lead as far as
registered voters.
--------------------------------
2.1 million voters and 767 seats
--------------------------------

2. (U) According to Panama's Tribunal Electoral (TE),
2,163,377 citizens (out of 3.3 million) will be eligible to
vote in the May 3, 2009 general elections. Panamanians will
choose 767 national and local elected officials, from
President to National Assembly representatives to mayors to
city councilmen for 5-year terms. Panamanians vote only once
every five years to select individuals for all of the
country's elected offices.

3. (U) The eight parties had from June 1 to July 15 to
challenge the voter registry and the data released on May 28.
The TE has until October 1 to examine these challenges.
Later in the fall, the TE will allow further challenges by
individuals who want to be included in the rolls - people
turning 18 before election day, for example. Voters who will
turn 18 before election day in 2009 will be allowed to vote,
although they must apply directly to the Padron Electoral by
October 15, 2008 to receive their ID card (cedula) and be
included in the voter registry. The TE will also purge the
rolls of individuals who should be excluded, such as recently
deceased individuals. The final voter registry will be
released on February 3, 2009.

4. (U) The individual party primaries will take place from
June through October, most notably the ruling Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) which will hold its primary on
September 7. The opposition's largest party, the Panamenista
Party, recently held its primary on July 6, and the second
largest opposition party, the Democratic Change party (CD),
will choose its candidates on August 3.

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Reaching Out to Young Voters
----------------------------

5. (U) One in five Panamanian voters is between 18 and 25
years of age, and 53% are 40 or under. Candidates have
noticed, and are reaching out to young voters with rallies,
concerts, Facebook pages and internet postings. As
Panamanian general elections take place only once every five
years, many of these voters up to the age of 22 years will be
voting for the first time. The TE expects more than 60,000
new voters to cast their ballots for the first time.

----------------------------
Eight Parties, but PRD Rules
----------------------------

6. (U) Eight registered political parties will vie for seats
up and down the ticket, although the larger parties - the
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Panamenista
Party, as well as political newcomer Democratic Change (CD),
will likely be the only parties with full tickets in every
precinct of Panama.

7. (SBU) Only 41% of voters are registered with any
political party, and roughly half of these voters (592,778)
were registered with the ruling PRD as of May 28. (NOTE:
The rolls of the ruling party tend to swell after each
election as new members join to obtain jobs in government.
END NOTE) Since the release of the voter registry, the PRD
has been working hard to register new voters. On July 14,
the TE reported that the PRD has registered 10,122 new
members, while the Panamenista Party has lost 2,697 members
and the Democratic Change party lost 1,361 voters in recent
months.

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The Voters, Who Are They?
-------------------------

8. (U) Almost half of all eligible voters (1,058,476) live
in Panama province, more specifically 28% of all nationwide
voters live in two large districts within Panama province -
Panama Centro (18%) and San Miguelito (10%). The bulk of the
voters living outside of Panama province are in the rural
provinces of Cocle, Colon and Veraguas, that combine to make
up 21% of the voting population. The TE lists 1,615 voters
living abroad, the vast majority (69%) in the United States,
although the actual number of eligible voters living abroad
is likely much higher. This total is artificially low due to
difficulties registering to vote overseas. Forty-nine
percent (1,079,954) of all eligible voters are women.

9. (U) Voter turnout is normally robust in general
elections, and the Tribunal Electoral expects a turnout of
more than 75% in May, tracking with prior elections. In
2004, turnout was 76.9% and in 1999 turnout was 76.2% of the
voting public.

-----------------------------------
Prisoners Can Vote, But Not Noriega
-----------------------------------

10. (U) Excluded from voting are 55,092 citizens who have
not voted in the last three elections and have not applied to
the TE to reinstate their status. Among them, the media
noted, is former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who did
not vote in the elections of 1994, 1999 or 2003. However, due
to a penal reform law of 2006, for the first time prisoners -
both those in pre-trial detention and convicts - will be
eligible to vote. However, the prohibition on voting still
stands for persons convicted of electoral crimes. (NOTE:
Campaigning may be difficult in prisons, as TE regulations do
not prohibit candidates from visiting prisons, but do
prohibit campaigning. END NOTE)

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Comment
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11. (U) COMMENT: This is the first in an occasional series
of cables that will endeavor to set the stage for the 2009
Panamanian elections. In the future, we plan to broaden the
reader's knowledge of the Panamanian election process by,
among other issues, delving further into the campaigns'
efforts to reach the youth vote, addressing the difficulties
of independent candidates, and providing a primer on the
distribution of National Assembly seats. END COMMENT.
MESA

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