Panama goes to the polls on Sunday, May 5. All of the advertising is supposed to come down and further campaigning will be prohibited as of Thursday, May 2. May 1 is Labor Day in Panama as in most of the rest of the world, and organized labor may have some things to say about the elections at its rallies and marches. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.
The campaign trails reach their ends
photos from the candidates’ Twitter feeds, notes by Eric Jackson
By all polling that the Electoral Tribunal allowed to be published, the PRD’s Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo has been the front runner all through the campaign. But La Estrella’s polls consistently showed nobody undecided, which was clearly erroneous, and the other media have published few voter surveys. The usual tendency for voters to polarized between or among two or three candidates in the last week of the election season, and a look at who is attacking whom go to suggest that the PRD may not be all that confident of an easy win. On the other hand, they do have the best organization on the ground and a built-in third of the electorate is usually enough to win a seven-way race.
Will anyone beat Cortizo? By such signs as the chatter on social media, the response of fans when PRD notables were introduced at the national baseball tournament finals, a student mock election at the Universidad Tecnologico and above all by the frequency, strident nature and source of political attack messages, that candidate appears to be independent Ricardo Lombana. He’s an Evangelical but not a supporter of this country’s gay-bashing religious right, arguing that his and everyone else’s religious views should be kept out of government policy. The lawyer and former diplomat opines that such hot button issues as same-sex marriage ought to be taken up to a constitutional convention that he promises to call. So there are pastors calling him the anti-Christ and so on.
Is she an also-ran, or is she the quietest of serious contenders? Legislator and former attorney general Ana Matilde Gómez was not all that prominent on the campaign trail five years ago, but in her San Miguelito circuit she amassed the most votes of any candidate for the legislature, all without benefit of a political party. She gathered more petition signatures than any other independent presidential hopeful, and her petitioners asked not to be photographed while this task was being done. She has made few promises, but does say that she wants a constitutional convention. A big handicap for her is the antipathy for all legislators that is shared by most voters. But virtually alone among her colleagues, she has not been touched by the scandals. She hasn’t said very much about them either, and that gets taken in different ways.
Is the Martinelli gang coming back to feed at the public trough, with standard bearer Rómulo Roux leading the way? The first polls had him firmly in second place, with later surveys showing him slipping. Ricardo Martinelli’s antics at his criminal trial for eavesdropping without a warrant and theft of the spy equipment, and revelations that are leaking out notwithstanding the ex-president’s many lawyers’ objections, probably hurt Roux and the Cambio Democratico party. Probably worse were the proceedings that disqualified Martinelli as a jailhouse candidate for mayor of Panama City and for the National Assembly. To show a “groundswell of public indignation” eight busloads of rent-a-protesters were brought in. And now the party’s municipal standard bearer in the capital is a guy who calls himself the Sexual Buffalo. So will it be a stunning come-from-behind victory for the corporate lawyer and former member of Martinelli’s cabinet? Perhaps. Or maybe he will lead CD back down to minor party status.
The president’s party always gets thrown out of office in the next elections, and that is almost surely going to happen again. Panama City’s mayor, José Isabel Blandón, is further hampered by a poor public perception of the job he did with the city. Expensive, prolonged and more disruptive than necessary construction projects — on no-bid contracts with the hoodlum Brazilian company Odebrecht — may have the Panameñista Party’s percentage of the vote down in single digits at the end of Election Day. But it’s not as if this party lacks a long tradition or a loyal following, so they may do better at the ballot box than polls and casual glances might indicate.
Saúl Méndez, leader of the militant SUNTRACS construction workers’ union, is not going to be elected president. He has expanded the appeal of FAD — the Broad Front for Democracy — beyond a sectarian formation with the secretive November 29th National Liberation Movement (MLN-29) as its “vanguard.” But the Panamanian left is maybe 10 percent of the country, even if conservative Evangelical construction workers may have a strong preference for a hardcore communist to negotiate with the boss. The big goal for FAD, however is to get enough votes overall to retain ballot status and get their top candidate for legislator a seat in the National Assembly. The large field for mayor of Panama City, with unbelievable people said to lead the pack, may help. (The guy who calls himself Tank of Gas vs the guy who calls himself the Sexual Buffalo vs a legislator who put his sister-in-law on the public payroll probably leads more than a few to cast their protest votes for the commie.) Helping the cause immensely is the personality of Saúl Méndez — a restrained man of measured words, but an easy guy to like, a Colonense who never forgot from whence and whom he comes. Perhaps the main FAD advantage is that it’s the only party to tell people that corruption is built into the system, which is designed to work only for a few wealthy families. Still, expect single digits for them.
Once upon a time Marco Ameglio, of the Bonlac dariy products family, was president of the Panameñista Party. At the time they were trying to live down the acute embarrassment of the Mireya Moscoso administration. They never really did, even if they managed to replace Ameglio as party leader with Juan Carlos Varela, who eked out an election win in 2014 to become president. On Sunday Ameglio may not even get one percent of the vote, running as an independent.
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