Martinelli loses his bid to get out of jail to vote
by Eric Jackson
Such a heroic pose — the political prisoner awaiting trial, convicted of nothing, makes a motion before the court that is trying him for permission to get out of jail long enough to go vote in the Cambio Democratico primary. After hearing him out and a short delay to read the pleadings, the law, the constitution and perhaps the early edition of the Sunday funnies, Magistrate Jerónimo Mejía made his ruling. The high court jurist whose term ran out at the end of last December but stays on because the president and legislature can’t agree on a replacement is serving the role of judge in the ex-president’s Supreme Court trial on eavesdropping and theft of surveillance equipment charges. It has been months of delays and frivolous motions from Ricardo Martinelli’s phalanx of lawyers.
Mejía didn’t take all that long to rule — MOTION DENIED.
So, the totalitarian Varela regime stamping out what’s left of democratic rights in Panama? That’s the way that Martinelli would play it, even if in his entire public life except while on the bench and nominally nonpartisan, Mejía has been in the PRD. But the magistrate’s decision was infinitely simpler than any political balance or judicial intrigue. It came right out of what passes for Panama’s constitution:
Article 143. The Electoral Tribunal shall have, in addition to those conferred by law, the following attributes which it shall exclusively exercise…
3. Regulate the Electoral Law, interpret it and apply it, and take cognizance of the disputes that originate in its application.
So Mejía said that he could not grant Martinelli’s motion because only the Electoral Tribunal would have jurisdiction to do that. Martinelli’s lawyers knew that, Martinelli knew that and most of the nation’s news editors knew that. Non-story, except in those media under Martinelli’s control.
We have a version of the Civil Code family of legal systems here, modified by bribery and other changes. It’s not a system that relies much on precedents like the Anglo-American Common Law systems famously do. But there is plenty of precedent for prison inmates voting in Panama. Ordinarily but not always a part of a prison sentence is a suspension of political rights that runs concurrently with the incarceration time. But most of Panama’s prisoners are, like Martinelli, awaiting trial and not yet convicted of anything. Voting stations in the nation’s prison system, or various absentee voting schemes for inmates, have their modern precedents here. The Cambio Democratico party could have gone to the Electoral Tribunal to set something like this up for their members awaiting trial in El Renacer Penitentiary. It might have been the occasion for jokes and unflattering commentary, but it could have been done.
But then, democracy is not a high priority in the September 30 partial primaries. Theoretically it’s for all offices except president (the party nominated Rómulo Roux for president in August). However, the party leadership decided to either give incumbents their nominations for re-election without possibility of a primary challenge, or held back offices to be later awarded by the bosses, perhaps as part of negotiations with other parties. There are 840 deputy, mayor and representante posts to be disputed next May, and Cambio Democratico has shielded 392 of these from primary contests. The fix is in for control, there are fewer goodies to be passed out to those who sell their votes and as polls opened in the morning few voters showed up. Ricky Martinelli wasn’t there for any of the short lines.
The former president is one of the candidates, for a seat in the legislature. His running mate for legislator (he’s also thinking of running as an independent for mayor of Panama City), former Panama City mayor and Panama province governor Mayín Correa, did, after her habitual Sunday purchase of a lottery ticket, make her grand entry at an uncrowded voting precinct at Colegio José Remón Cantera. In the morning’s edition of La Prensa she promised to stock any payroll to which she had access with relatives, as she had done as mayor. Also that morning on TVN, she advocated electronic surveillance of political adversaries. At age 82, she appears not to have overcome her addiction to the abuse of power.
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