So far in the primaries: more volatility than at first glance
by Eric Jackson
Some smaller parties like the Alianza and FAD are into their candidate selection processes and one of the nation’s historic major parties, the Panameñistas, have their primary in a week’s time. Initial primary election returns and commentary based upon them made it seem that everything is set to go on as it has been, that the movement to reject all incumbents is stillborn. A second look at the primaries so far tells a more complicated picture.
The indigenous vote in the PRD
The tradition for many years has been the indigenous voters are the big swing element in Panamanian political life. But look at what happened in the comarcas in the PRD primary. In the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca it was apparent on election night that incumbent legislator Crescencia Prado had been defeated by a relatively small margin in a relatively high turnout. It was also initially reported that in Guna Yala incumbent deputy Aibán Velarde was trailing. That latter was quite the understatement. The guy came in dead last in a crowded field, with only 35 votes (7%).
The comarca is not included in Chiriqui’s circuit 4-2, encompassing the district of Baru. In that province, however, there are plenty of indigenous voters who live outside of the comarca. Were they a factor in PRD primary, wherein party members ousted incumbent Carlos Motta? That race was decided by a narrow margin and not definitively reported on primary night. Anything that may have been a factor probably was.
Martinelli’s people in CD
Primary night news from Cambio Democratico concentrated on Sergio Gálvez winning the party nomination to seek another term in the legislature. He was the top primary vote-getter, with 3,930 votes in circuit 8-7. Next door in circuit 8-8 the only CD incumbent in that multi-member constituency is Fernando Carrillo and he was given a bye for an automatic nomination. That saved a contest with jailed ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, who got the most votes there, 2,548 votos of the 5,870 who showed up for the primary.
Gálvez is a likely general election winner as far as we can see right now, barring further scandals. It is not at all clear whether Martinelli would muster the votes to get a seat in the legislature, and moreover he may well be barred from holding public office in the event of a criminal conviction.
Martinelli’s spokesman, Luis Eduardo Camacho, came in third for three spots on the ballot in play in San Miguelito, with 1,161 votes. Much might change but it looks far short of the base needed to propel him into the National Assembly.
Recycles, retreads and dynasts
The big reject of the Cambio Democratico primary was legislator Marilyn Vallarino’s bid to be nominated for mayor of Arraijan. She gets a bye for legislator so will be on the ballot for that, but lost the mayoral primary to a newcomer, attorney Belkis Saavedra. Vallarino, sister of former vice president Arturo Vallarino and aunt of jailed former Panama City mayor Bosco Vallarino, may not get to hold any public office. That’s because the comptroller general has lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court about her paying her private company employees out of the legislature’s budget. That she doesn’t deny, but she maintains that it’s improper because it’s her company. A previous mayor of Arraijan is in prison for doing much the same, putting private company employees on the city budget.
In Arraijan, Ricardo Valencia Arias, once the youngest legislator, is back for a try to get back in the Assembly. In 2014, with notoriety for going around Arraijan with his friends and beating up queers, the voters threw him out. He got 1,800 votes to win one of two spots up for grabs but it seems thain the multi-member Arraijan circuit he will not get his old job back if the courts to not bar Marilyn Vallarino from running. Valencia’s return would restore a seat in the legislature as family property, given that his mother Argentina Arias used to hold a seat from there.
In Colon’s urban circuit the PRD incumbent deputy Maria Del Carmen Delgado Blandón (Chelita) came in fourth, which could get her on the general election ballot but it is expected that the nomination for that spot may be given to a smaller party if an alliance can be made. On the CD side we see old name Leopoldo Benedetti winning one of that party’s spots but scant chances of a Martinelista winning a seat from that city.
In La Chorrera in and out of jail former Martinelli minister Federico Suárez got eliminated from consideration for the legislature by Yuzaida Marín.
Cambio Democratico gave most of their deputies free passes around the primaries, allowing them to conserve resources. But some rejected that in favor of an extra season of campaigning.
Same old, same old? Something seems to be shifting beneath the surface, and the May elections are a long time from now.
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