Lame duck? Or a sleeping one?

President Varela passing out medals to senior law enforcement and security officer. Photo by the Presidencia.

A few days of political drama after the election, but June’s a month-long sleepwalk

by Eric Jackson

On May 5 the big surprise was that Martinelli’s party got 30 percent, but once things were counted — a few challenges are still outstanding — it was clear that President Varela’s Panameñista Party had been cast into the wilderness and Nito Cortizo’s Democratic Revolutionary Party would have the votes to control the legislature and pretty much do as it pleases.

Not entirely, though. The PRD wanted constitutional changes on a special session agenda so that they could be jammed through without a referendum, but Varela wouldn’t go along. Varela had a few bits of legislation and a bunch of appointments that he wanted to push though a special session on his way out, but none of that happened and it appears that none of it will. Even if Roberto Roy claims that it’s some sort of constitutional violation for him not to get a seat on the Panama Canal Authority board of directors. The PRD and Cambio Democratico, probably each with their own specific set of calculations, concur about Varelat getting nothing on his way out. That doesn’t mean any sort of alliance — Cortizo doesn’t need CD’s votes in the next National Assembly and promises not to intervene in ongoing court cases against Ricardo Martinelli et al.

So until Inauguration Day on July 1, we have a mainly ceremonial administration and a president-elect making all the proper rounds and holding transition meetings, but other than nominating a non-surprising cabinet not having a lot to say. That makes Panama’s news cycles more about improperly built houses sliding down San Miguelito hillsides and terrible car crashes than anything going on in the halls of government. For politics junkies it’s boring.

With the winds of trade wars blowing from the north, few countries in the region that are all that stable and the prospect of not having the money to do everything he’d like to do, Cortizo is talking about reviewing things and paying down the government debt. He says he wants a constitutional proposal to put to the Panamanian people this fall.

This month, though, there’s just not a lot to cover on the Panamanian government front. Watching the time run out on gridlock will put even the healthiest, most active duck to sleep.


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