Editorials: Insulting constitutional process; and Enlisting for the Sunni jihad?

jcv / lc
Juan Carlos Varela and Laurentino Cortizo meet to talk transition. Photo from Cortizo’s Twitter feed.

Is it now Plan B, or Plan A version 2.0?

In the days after the election we found that the PRD won 33 percent of the vote, but got 35 of 71 seats in the National Assembly. Independent candidates won 20 percent of the vote, but got fives seats. Independents outpolled both the Panameñista Party and by a long shot MOLIRENA, but the Panameñistas got eight seats and MOLIRENA five. By this year’s permutation of the ways that seats are allocated from multi-member circuits, a newcomer, running on both the PRD and MOLIRENA slates, lost out to an old face, also running in the same circuit on both the PRD and MOLIRENA slates, who got many fewer votes than the newcomer did.

THEN, a week after the election, the PRD gave a copy of a 27-page constitutional reform package to a newspaper more or less aligned with the PRD – the public still doesn’t get to see a copy – and that would make ALL candidates for the legislature run in these manipulable, cockamamey multi-member circuits. We need this because? Something about less corruption, they say, plus we are warned from the banking distict that if we had a constitutional convention somebody might question the white minority apartheid regime that is the Panama Canal Authority board of directors.

Problem is, to get this thing jammed through without any public input – the business lobbies who had a hand in drafting it are not “the public” but in fact cringe in terror at the collective majority of Panamanians – the same proposal would have to pass in as special legislative session called by President Varela for that express purpose, and then by the incoming new PRD-dominated legislature. If Varela called a session for one proposal that was passed, and the new legislature passed a different version it would have to be submitted to the voters in a national referendum.

The latest noises we hear suggest that Cortizo will submit constitutional questions to the voters early in his administration. As in, Varela seems not to be going along with the plan.

The changes mentioned are inane, would make everyone run for legislature in larger circuits where it costs more to run. Of course the rich love that, plus the added feature that with the larger circuits all of the legislature could come from upscale neighborhoods and none from where the poor live.

The parts of the proposal of which we have been told would create a runoff system with three new sets of calculation – first round percentage for the front runner, then whether the second place person came within five percent, then who has the most votes in the end – instead of the present one comparison. And hasn’t Panama seen elections wherein it was declared that in some district or circuit or mesa there were irregularities, so that part of the result will be tossed out for the final count? It’s how Noriega’s man was declared the winner in 1984. Add the extra calculations and there would be more opportunity for this sort of thing. Why not just if nobody gets 50 percent plus one, there is a runoff between the top two finishers? Might it be that parties that never get much more than one-third of the vote are afraid of that?

We ought to have a constitutional convention. The same guarantee that the nation would have if Varela won’t cooperate and Cortizo sends something to the voters would apply if a convention does a poor job of drafting a new design for how we govern ourselves. In either of those cases, then people just vote the proposal down. That has also happened before.


gunboat diplomacy
Gunboat diplomacy. The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group passes through the Suez Canal headed for waters off of Iran. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Darion Chanelle Triplett.

Off to the jihad, dragging Panama along?

Donald Trump has sent an aircraft carrier group and a large supply of missiles to the Middle East.

En route the usual Sunni jihadis, the Saudis and the Emiraitis, have told the world how Iran has blown holes in four tankers in Emiraiti waters. Showing zero evidence they blamed Iran. But satellite photos show no damage, no leakage.

Those photos from on high having been published, now the Saudis say that an explosives-laden drone has attacked one of their pipelines. Did it happen? If it did and the attack came from Yemen it served them right. Maybe a regime the cuts a journalist apart alive with a bone saw has a different version of Islamic law that maintains that they can bomb and starve a civilian population but it’s vile terrorism if anyone shoots back at them.

The world doesn’t buy it. The folks who were on the same side of the table with the United States to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal – having been insulted and called enemies by Trump, and having their domestic politics disrupted by Trump-backed neofascists – say that they will not join the USA in this adventure.

So does America sign on for an expansion of the Sunni jihad, which after having failed in Syria and Iraq is now setting its sights on Iran? Getting involved in a Middle Eastern religious war would be the worse sort of perversion of the founders’ foreign policy principles, but that would be just one more perversion for Trump to sample.

The question is whether Panama will see the need to go along. With Juan Carlos Varela one might expect that. With Nito Cortizo it’s not so clear.

Panama should maintain cordial relations with Iran, stay out of any war in the Middle East, and maintain the neutral right of passage for the ships of all nations that do not attack us. There is no reason for Panama to go down into an improvised foxhole with Cadet Bonespurs.


The Col.
Oveta Culp Hobby was commander of the Women’s Army Corps in World War II and later served as US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Bear in mind

I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.


People with bad consciences always fear the judgement of children.
Mary McCarthy


To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
Isaac Asimov



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