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Guillermo Endara's Vanguardia Moral de la Patria
New party nears ballot status, prepares for first campaign
by Eric Jackson
About half of all Panamanian voters belong to no political party. Many of those who do signed up because they figured that they needed to do so in order to get a government job or contract. Whenever the presidency changes hands, the outgoing party loses members and the incoming one gains them. The cynical calculations don't end with the two Panamanian parties with large bases of enduring popular support, the PRD and the Panameñistas --- third party politics in this country are not based on ideology but on bets that the major parties will need allies to win the presidency or control the legislature and that support will be exchanged for material benefits. Plus, with government subsidies for the parties based upon the number of votes they muster in the presidential races, a party may run a proven vote-getter who is not actually a member on its ticket in order to increase income that will translates into higher salaries or more paid party officials over the following five years.
Thus in 2004, with Mireya Moscoso having hand-picked an Arnulfista candidate sure to be slaughtered and the PRD-led alliance headed toward a victory that seemed certain all along, businessman Samuel Lewis Galindo put to non-members at the head his Solidaridad party ticket: former President Guillermo Endara and former Vice President Guillermo Ford. They ran a strong race, finishing second, carrying a nine-member legislative caucus into office on their coat tails and qualifying Solidaridad for a substantial subsidy. But after all that, Solidaridad's notables went back to their usual grasping ways and Endara and Ford drifted away.
The Endaraless Solidaridad sought to reinforce its fortunes by joining forces with another oligarchic faction, the National Liberals, a merger that in turn caused members of each of these formations to drop away.
Meanwhile Guillermo Endara and a small band of followers have set about the task of getting a new party, the Vanguadia Moral de la Patria, on the ballot. It's a difficult task, which requires the enrollment of enough members to equal four percent of all eligible voters, about 56,000 people at this time. At the end of June, the new would-be party had 46,603 members. As July began it moved to get the extra support that will give it ballot status in 2009, and also to mobilize for its first election, which will probably take place this year in the form of a canal expansion referendum.
On July 2 Vanguardia Moral met upstairs at the Hotel Roma under its horizontally striped yellow, white and blue flag and heard reports about where the group is and plans about where it wants to go from former San Miguelito Mayor John Hoger, Endara's wife Ana Mae and other key activists.
Vanguardia Moral is mostly a young, urban party --- which would seem counter-intuitive, as Endara got his strongest support from older voters in 2004. But 52 percent of the members who have signed on so far are 35 or younger and 84 percent are from Panama and Colon provinces, concentrated in urban areas. The party membership has a 60 percent male majority. Figure, however, that when conducting membership drives, younger voters are the ones less likely to already belong to a party, and that campaigners will get the most new members for their efforts by going to the areas of densest population.
(A couple of days later, Vanguardia Moral held a press conference in which it announced that it had picked up one new member who will probably bring a number of others to the party with her, legislator Mireya Lasso, who was elected on the Solidaridad ticket in 2004 from a Panama City circuit.)
But meanwhile at the Hotel Roma, Endara addressed a few dozen party activist about the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan to expand the Panama Canal. He noted that the party has a committee studying the matter and will have a more detailed statement later, but left no doubt where he stands.
"I want to start from a clear fact," Endara began. The proposal is "manifestly unconstitutional." He based that argument in part on a technical point about how the Panama Canal Authority proposal may be accepted or rejected, but not changed in the political process. He noted that initially definitive cost figures have been changed to "estimated" costs.
"Where are those cost overruns going? --- into the pockets of the PRD. From where will these overruns come? --- from the budge of the government and from new taxes on the middle class," he argued.
Endara also called the added section allowing the use of government funds by public employees to campaign for the proposal illegal on several counts. "They don't have to work, except for the 'yes' vote, and this is also unconstitutional."
The ex-president also blasted the government claims that the project would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs through the multiplier effect of investing billions in the national economy, when at the height of construction employment fewer than 4,000 people will be working on the project. The main thing that these claims will do, he charged, will be to cause a mass migration from rural areas in search of canal jobs that won't be there: "Where are they going to live? How are we going to absorb this population?"
"Citizens have grave doubts," the former president said, and "I want to participate in this discussion."
And it seems that he will do so by leading his new party into its electoral shakedown cruise as part of the "no" campaign.
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