Bernal, Down to the basics for the fresh start Panama needs

Miguel Antonio Bernal. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Minimum common denominator

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

The constitution imposed by the military dictatorship in 1972, amended four times, continues in effect. Thanks to this, we are a society with a deep institutional vacuum and a government that lives far from the real world.

After the invasion, the rulers chose to rescue the militaristic constitution from history’s wastebasket, and rule with it and with those who had sponsored that system at the time. It was an irreparable error of which, except for Guillerno Endara, none of the rulers – to date — has repented.

Currently, three strains of thinking about constitutional matters prevail in the public discourse:

1. Supporters of the status quo: those who, under different pretexts, demonstrate in favor of maintaining the imposed constitution. In this those currently favored and supporters of the dictatorship intermingle, with those who since 1983 feel satisfied with the reformed militarist constitution and with those who, out of ignorance, fear changes.

2. The advocates of cosmetic “changes” via their “parallel” process: those who wish to maintain the militarist constitution, but making slight and superficial changes, which make possible a “fifty-fifty” with the present power brokers. It is the school of “change so that nothing changes,”, that seeks to collect signatures so that the Electoral Tribunal can convene a parallel assembly for them, which is NOT really a constitutional convention.

3. Those of us who advocate for a totally new constitution: that is, citizens who demand real, effective and positive solutions that benefit the whole of society, in which constitutional values, principles and truths go hand-in-hand, through a fully participatory and democratic constituent process.

Our country and its people won’t be able to get out of the very serious crisis that besets us today without the structural changes that the Panamanian government requires. To continue denying them is nonsense, hence the urgency to find a lowest common denominator that will lead us to a successful agreement about constitutional matters and to the democratization of political power.

If we join forces, we set aside obtuse sectarianisms and, for once, democratic solutions are considered, let us all demand the convocation, by law, by December of this year, of a national referendum in which the citizens from whom all sovereignty flows are consulted, to choose one of three options:

1. That the constitution of 72 be maintained:

2. That it will only be reformed;

3. That a constituent process be convened, for a new constitution.


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