Blandón and Méndez get past their primaries

Panama City Mayor José Isabel Blandón Figueroa celebrates his primary victory with other Panameñistas. He got some 56% of the primary vote.

Blandón and Méndez secure their spots
on a crowded 2019 presidential ballot

note and captions by Eric Jackson, photos from the candidates’ Twitter feeds

The two primaries held on October 28 turned out more or less as expected. Saúl Méndez, leader of the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union, swept the presidential primary of the leftist Frente Amplio por la Democracia (Broad Front for Democracy, or FAD). Panama City Mayor José Isabel Blandón was slightly less of a consensus candidate but still beat his closest opponent by nearly 20 points.

Blandón now heads a major party ticket, but it’s the party of President Varela and Panamanian voters have this notorious habit of throwing any party that holds the presidency out of office in the next election. FAD is a minor party, but unlike the other small parties stands for certain things other than making deals to get government jobs and contracts for their members. The last time around FAD didn’t get enough votes to maintain its ballot status but this time there is not as big of a split on the left and the charismatic Méndez will look to grow the party into a force with which to be reckoned.

The Panameñistas chose candidates for other offices along with their presidential nominee, while FAD leaders will have a convention to do that at a later date.

All the results are yet to come in, but the Panameñistas have chosen legislator Adolfo “Beby” Valderrama as their candidate for mayor in the capital. They also resoundingly retired their scandal-tainted incumbent deputy from La Chorrrera, Gabriel “Panky” Soto, by a nearly 2-1 margin. There is going to be a crowded race for Panama City mayor. Valderrama will have to overcome a stigma that has so tainted the entire National Assembly that many voters are vowing not to vote for any of its members, no matter which post they seek.

Saúl Méndez poses with his family before setting out to vote. He was FAD’s 92% consensus choice. A Colon native, he and his party will do well to get someone elected from that city. In 2014 intra-left faction fighting meant that the city’s leftist voters didn’t send anyone to the legislature, although there were enough of them to do so if they had joined forces. Méndez is of the breed of working class intellectuals, working his way through law school on construction jobs and as a labor leader.


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