Bernal’s long road toward a spot on the ballot

Miguel Antonio Bernal and some fellow independents at the Electoral Tribunal, with more than 15,000 more signatures to submit. Photo from Bernal’s Twitter feed.

Bernal’s move in the race for a ballot spot

by Eric Jackson

The basic rules are that come January 5, the top three independent candidates for president with the most signatures accepted as valid by the Electoral Tribunal get on the ballot, provided that they have at least 18,500 signatures. The limit is three, arbitrarily set at the behest of the political parties that notwithstanding all denials the electoral magistrates and prosecutor represent. In effect it’s less because they allow for and encourage ringers to bump real candidates off the ballot.

On June 7 law professor, activist and radio show host Miguel Antonio Bernal showed up with more than 15,000 signatures to present, adding to more than 3,000 he had previously submitted. The tribunal, offering no particular explanations, struck about one-third of the signatures he had submitted, leaving him in fourth place at the end of May. Bernal is prepared to challenge the disqualifications one by one, and has had vague assurances that his complaint will be reviewed.

As it now stands an unknown, who makes references to public offices he has never held — nor even sought — has never been know to engage in any sort of public advocacy and who says that he is a law student with sufficient time and funding from an unidentified business he says he has leads the pack. That’s Dimitri Flores, this election cycle’s ringer — more could come forward — whom the magistrates say has submitted more than 50,000 signatures so far. Campaign finance secrecy laws not only encourage bribery but also deny the public any financial information about who Flores’s backers actually might be.

Independent legislator, former attorney general and one of Bernal’s students way back when, Ana Matilde Gómez, registered second at the end of may with 27,418 signatures accepted by election authorities. Journalist and attorney Ricardo Lombana had been in third place with 12,726 signatures, with Bernal in fourth. Now, perhaps Bernal has vaulted into third place. Given the going rate of rejected signatures, and that the others are certainly not standing still, perhaps he’s still running fourth.

Gómez is accepted by some of the power brokers here, like the Motta family for one of whose businesses she once worked, as a reliable establishment candidate. She was appointed as attorney general during the Martín Torrijos administration and took care not to move against a number of corruption cases — in particular the political ties of Colombian racketeer David Murcia Guzmán with the government and political parties  in that time — but did go after several key people in the Ministry of Education who were caught stealing in rather flagrant fashion. She was removed by the Martinelli administration on a corruption complaint — one of the prosecutors under her was shaking down the family of a woman accused of a crime by threatening to imprison her under harsh conditions unless they paid him, and that family asked her to tap their own phone to prove it. She acceded to that request, caught the prosecutor in the flagrant act of extortion, fired him and charged him with a crime. But she was charged with illegal wiretapping and convicted while the extortionist went free. As a legislator she has fit in, but without putting her family on the payroll or engaging in other such abuses common among her colleagues. She has by and large opposed impeachment charges against high court magistrates, with the noteworthy exception of Alejandro Moncada Luna, who was jailed for amassing millions of dollars while on the bench and being unable to explain a legal source for this income. Moncada Luna is now out of prison and practicing law again.

Lombana is an advocate of ethics in journalism, who tends to accept the model that a journalist should not express his or her opinion on the substance of a controversial issue. Thus, while his name and face are known from newspaper columns and cable television shows, he has not been known as a leader of any movement for anything in particular.

Bernal was known as an opponent of the dictatorship — twice exiled and once beaten nearly to death — and these days is perhaps best known as the leading advocate of a constitutional convention to replace our current document, which is a 1972 relic of the military regime of that time.

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