Volume 19, Number 4
May 13, 2013
Also in this section:
Flooding in Darien, but drought elsewhere prompts electric rationing warning
Poll shows Navarro with commanding early lead
SOA/WHINSEC to release the names of Latin Americans trained there
Expecting to be defeated in 2014, Cambio Democratico legislates to protect its members
CD rigs the formula for electing legislators --- again
Broken Valley: Panamanian indigenous communities driven out by US company
FAD closes in on ballot status goal
Venezuela's post-election conflict and the hemispheric response
A lie takes on a life of its own
Former Colon mayor Beby González dies at age 64
Fathers and sons and Chechenya
Ríos Montt genocide trial suspended after Guatemala's president intervenes
Fire at Panama's crime lab burns the evidence
Panama invites artist, then deports him on arrival
What to do when the local road becomes impassable?
Two guilty of US charges of bribing Panamanian public official
Reality check: what Panama's mayors can and can't do
Democracy Now: The WikiLeaks Kissinger cables
On the campaign trail, 13 months out
The Volcan highlanders are coming!
Constantly updated news clippings from the Spanish-language media and many other things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website are now found on The Panama News Facebook page. which you can reach by clicking on this
"Our gang" --- gestures outside a primary voting precinct in San Carlos.
Photo by Eric Jackson
Arias wins CD nomination, spin doctors go to overdrive
by Eric Jackson
By all accounts José Domingo Arias won the Cambio Democratico presidential nomination on May 12 by a handy margin. By his party's accounts --- to be taken with a grain of salt because for one thing party boss Ricardo Martinelli has admitted a history of inflating the party's membership numbers --- just over 40 percent of the party members voted in the primary, with about 190,000 votes cast of which Arias garnered 122,483.
This reporter checked the polling station at the public school in the town of San Carlos at about 11 a.m. and again at about 1:30 p.m. There was a slow turnout --- about half a dozen voters visible on the premises the first visit, only one on the second --- but a party worker said that there was actually a high turnout, with almost everyone voting early in the morning.
Ricardo Martinelli spun it as a harbinger of a ruling party steamroller that is on its way to crush the opposition one year from now. He pointed out that the PRD, which nominated Juan Carlos Navarro, had only a 34 percent turnout in its March 10 presidential primary, while the Panameñista primary that nominated Juan Carlos Varela a week later only drew 25 percent of party members to the polls. However, neither Navarro nor Varela had substantial primary opposition. Navarro took more that 94 percent of the PRD vote (142,589 votes), while Varela won his primary with 99 percent (about 50,000 votes).
The president had predicted 200,000 voters in the CD primary, a goal that was narrowly missed. In any case, compare it to the primaries for the 2009 election. The then-ruling PRD had just under two-thirds of its members participating, for a total of 425,069 votes cast. A few months later the PRD's Balbina Herrera was crushed by Ricardo Martinelli.
Comparing a contested primary with an uncontested or barely contested one, or comparing turnout for a ruling party that has members who could lose their government jobs for not voting in the primary with the primaries of either an opposition party that expects to win or one that will be mainly running for its continued existence as a relevant political force, are less than convincing spin doctor tricks. However, this year's primary season does show a relatively low participation and that probably does indicate an unenthusiastic electorate all the way around. There have been vote suppression measures --- if you are not registered now, your time to do so has expired more than one year before the voting --- to add to what looks like a government low-turnout strategy for the 2014 elections.
Still, the polls have been remarkably steady since Ricardo Martinelli broke his alliance with Juan Carlos Varela. They indicate a likely PRD victory with a 40 percent or more plurality and a distant second or third place finish for the Martinelistas. The lack of enthusiasm may eventual translate to electoral volatility, but so far the leftist Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) that will qualify for the ballot and other leftist independents led by presidential candidate Juan Jované are not registering any surges of support at the moment.
In the run-up to their primary Cambio Democratico was passing out bags of rice and other groceries in many parts of the country and within the party there was strong pressure for elected officials to get on the Arias bandwagon. We can expect an Arias campaign according to the Sexual Buffalo's prescription that "Él que no da, no va" --- he who does not give does not go. But the question is whether that sort of thing can win a national election, especially when the current administration is unpopular and Arias, the former housing minister, is defending the status quo. That defense he has usually expressed in vitriolic terms about the opposition "enemies of change," as he put it on primary election night.
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