The National Assembly’s delay and restart

Deputy Petita Ayarza (PRD-Guna Yala) at virtual work. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Usually we’d have published it last week…

by Eric Jackson

It’s an annual rite. At the first session of a new legislative year, all of the deputies are supposed to dress in white, the holy man gives his blessing and the president gives his report. Usually everything in those parts is predictable. Sometimes parts get spiced up with some lofty or low-down rhetoric, but usually the identities of the legislature’s new officers are negotiated and publicized beforehand.

So the PRD’s Marcos Castillero Barahona was re-elected to preside over the 2020-2021 legislative year and last year’s first VP was dropped off the leadership ticket. PRD colleague Cenobia Vargas got that spot, with MOLIRENA’s Tito Rodríguez re-elected as second vice president. The Panameñistas and independents had their own nominees for the assembly’s presidency, who of course went nowhere.

The biggest political development, known in advance, is that most of Zulay Rodr’iguez’s colleagues in and out of the PRD caucus have grown sufficiently weary of the histrionics and demagoguery to remove her from the leadership. Another big development, less obvious and harder to assess in longer term importance, is that the Cambio Democratico caucus not only didn’t run any candidates of its own but split on those who were offered.

The usually most interesting thing at the start of a new legislative session is the election of the committee presidents. The worst crooks all usually want to head the budget committee. Among those with higher political ambitions, the Credentials Committee is a big prize. The identities of those assigned to the various committees, and of their leaders, are often predictors of what sorts of things will pass in the coming year.

THIS TIME, the legislators didn’t meet the next day. Nor for the rest of that week. Two PRD deputies were known to be in home quarantine after testing positive, another said he’s recovered after coming down with the virus back in April. Plenty of rumors of other ill legislators — some undoubtedly false and malicious — have flown around. And then it is known that several people who work in non-elected posts at the National Assembly are or have been sick.

In April the legislature passed a rule allowing for online sessions, but a bunch of members never bothered to learn how to operate the computers and programs for that. Some have homes where the telecommunications signals are on a continuum from unreliable to nonexistent. So, no elections of committee heads. And the usual cycle of The Panama News, reporting something about what the president said not long after he said it and then something about the legislature’s new organization for the coming year. Didn’t happen.

Nito Cortizo’s speech was a 40-pager, with its text unpublished, let alone in English translation, in any immediate sense. We did post, in Spanish, the video of the president’s report along with some remarks by a sampling of online critics and supporters, later that same day. There was little to inspire, and little to inflame, despite how long it took.

Then nothing until a July 6 announcement that plenary sessions would resume online the next day, and that a few committees had met online to approve  appointments to the boards of the Metro train system, the Banco Hipotecario and the Aquatic Resources Authority. There were also hearings on a couple of proposed free trade treaties.

Nothing yet on the most consequential business, the membership and leadership of the legislative committees. We might guess at the reasons but we really don’t know.


Contact us by email at


To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.


These links are interactive — click on the boxes