Martinelli stays on the ballot for mayor and legislator, for now

The former president at one of his many hearings, adapted from a court video feed.

Martinelli stays on the ballot, with that case set for a quick appeal

by Eric Jackson

Panama province’s 5th Electoral Judge Elvia Rengifo said at the end of an oral hearing that she might take 30 days to rule on a challenge to former President Ricardo Martinelli’s right to be on the ballot for mayor and for legislator, but she only took two. It came down to arguments about which timelines apply.

To be a candidate, one must have been residing and registered in the applicable place one year before the election. On May 5, 2018 Ricardo Martinelli was living in Miami. In criminal cases he still asserts that this is his residence, so as to be only potentially liable for the charge for which he was extradited, so his lawyers’ argument goes.

There was a deadline after nominations for ballot posts to be challenged, in which two attorneys without anyone contesting it did. Or did they?

Judge Rengifo held that the time to challenge the Martinelli candidacies was before he was put on the ballot, when the voter roll for the applicable circuit was announced. Very typically of Panamanian jurisprudence, the black letter law about residency got shunted aside in favor of procedure.

However, the judge’s decision certified the case for appeal to the Electoral Tribunal. The complainants say that they are filing that appeal. So likely next week there will be arguments before magistrates Eduardo Valdés Escoffery and Alfredo Juncá, plus alternate magistrate Mirtha R. Varela de Durán.

Will this panel have the last word? Theoretically, but the printing schedule for the ballots might make it all moot, and the voters might overrule everyone.

There hasn’t been any polling for the legislative races published. For the mayor’s race La Prensa published a survey showing Martinelli with a commanding lead over the second-place candidate, the PRD’s José Luis “Tanque de Gas” Fábrega. The ex-president had less than 50 percent and there was a huge undecided block but the mayoral field is full of notoriously flawed or weak candidates whom voters are likely to take with derision, anger or both. A lot depends on how far voters want to take the popular #NoALaReelección movement — but if they throw out all the known politicians almost nobody has heard of any of the others.

If the ballot spots question is on the fast-track for a quick decision, it appears that with constant and repeated objections to the admission of each piece of evidence that the public prosecutor tries to introduce into the record — and the private prosecutors then perhaps getting their whacks at entering stuff that the judge would not let into the record by the Public Ministry’s methods — Martinelli’s criminal trial for eavesdropping without a warrant and theft of the equipment and its use may go past Election Day. A conviction in that case would make Martinelli ineligible to serve, unless pardoned or if the conviction gets reversed on appeal. If Martinelli is elected mayor but can’t serve, Sergió “Bufalo Sexual” Gálvez would hold that job. If Martinelli is elected as a legislator but can’t serve, that job goes to former mayor Mayín Correa.

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