Editorials, To defend democracy in Panama — and the USA

Lots of people with different outlooks on life will be marching tomorrow. The are fairly united about some things that they don’t want, but have big disagreements among themselves about what they want. A lot of what they say they want gets expressed in terms of procedure rather than in terms of law or social or economic policy.

To meet the threat in Panama

The National Assembly have made asses of themselves and they know it. They have done so during the deadliest crisis in the history of the Republic of Panama. They have done so expensively.

It’s not as if the other branches of government are so well behaved, but what we are seeing is a legislature facing the prospect of an angry electorate ousting most of its members, so trying to arrange things so that, even in the likely event that the PRD is succeeded in the presidency by somebody from some other party, most of the deputies will keep their seats and continue to ride the gravy train.

When you look at how the election rules are to be tweaked — barring a veto of part or all of the legislature’s changes by the president or the intervention of the courts — the thinking goes something like this:

  • The PRD will continue to get its more or less one-third of the vote, and even if an annoyed electorate coalesces around some other party to succeed President Cortizo, that third or so of the vote will be a plurality.
  • The scandal-plagued Cambio Democratico and RM parties will either unite behind a Ricky Martinelli if he can buy his way out of multiple prosecutions, or continue as a squabbling alliance of at least three factions to be a major player in the National Assembly. They think that they can win it all, but the “(s)he stole but got things done” routine will not work in the harsh glow of these hard times that will still be with us in early 2024.
  • The Panameñistas will recover a bit, even if their own long-running Odebrecht scandals are just beginning to show up in court. They are a traditionally a major party but like all the others these days it’s had to say just for what, other than the fortunes of their leaders and a few luck members, they might stand. 
  • MOLIRENA and perhaps the Partido Popular may grab a few seats with which to bargain, depending on power balances. Third parties are a business these days. They have not been ideological pressure groups for a long time.
  • FAD will probably get on the ballot but remain irrelevant in elections by annoying everyone else on the left with their “we’re the vanguard and you’re the front” Leninist pretensions. Such sectarian stuff on the left is why Colon sends people like Bolota Salazar rather than the late Thelma King to the National Assembly
  • The independents? They will elect a few people but in the anomalous “proportional representation” formula of quotients, half quotients and residues they will only take a few seats. Or so its is figured, one of the suppositions there is that MOVIN, an essentially rabiblanco formation, will decide who runs as an independent and find too few “respectables” to put together a full and credible slate. They might get the Electoral Tribunal to help them with such a power play.
  • Last time’s leading independent, Ricardo Lombana, has a new party that might even win the presidency, but won’t have a competitive slate running for the legislature.

So their theories go.

However, if there is a full slate of independents running for the legislature — real independents, who are all over the map on many a question, and not just white guys in suits and a few expensively dressed women — then by the formula that the legislature passed they might surpass the PRD in total votes and thus run off most of the incumbents.

If Ricardo Lombana can put together a slate that does something like that, the math would work like that, too. To change the legislature an opposition party needs to muster more votes that the PRD will.

To run this crop of incumbents out of office, a proposition for which there is strong sentiment, two things have to happen. First, people have to vote against the incumbents as individuals, and second people have to coalesce around either independents as such or for some other new alternative to the PRD and rest of the traditional parties.

What could possibly go wrong? Everything. We have a political culture in which many people believe that if you win elected office and don’t put all your relatives on the payroll, you have betrayed your family.

A post-PRD National Assembly is possible under the rules that the legislators passed, but it would be this zoo without a majority. It would not, however, be Benicio Robinson’s zoo.

Panama really does need a new constitution, and en route to that a massive adult education class in things like electoral math and ethics in public office. Otherwise you get the very rich backing demagoguery like the notion that fewer legislators mean less corruption, when what it really means is larger constituencies in which to run and thus on the rich or those backed by the rich can afford to run.

Tomorrow — Wednesday the 20th — various factions that don’t much like each other will be marching to oppose something that they all dislike. Between now and the 2024 elections can these groups and individuals maintain their beliefs and identities and still come to some campaign season understandings that work in politics? It could be something like how ivermectin works on intestinal worms, but it’s a long shot.




To meet the threat in the USA

Vote suppression laws, armed vigilantes, police forces with members tied to groups like the Klan? The United States has seen this sort of thing before and in many times and places it has worked. Between tne Republican filibuster of voting rights legislation and a far-right Supreme Court, 2022 may be another election cycle when these factors come into play.

We get some inklings, but not a definitive preview, in two weeks. Virginia and New Jersey have statewide elections, there are a few congressional special elections, and there are local elections in a number of places. If the GOP takes the Virginia governor’s race, that would be an eye-opener. It’s a state in which a lot of people who trace roots through Panama live and vote, most of them in the northern parts near Washington DC.

There is gerrymandering ongoing in both Democratic and Republican states, while states with independent commissions or governors and legislators of different parties tend to have a bit less of this. Some of the deep red states are already as gerrymandered as they can be, plus some of the redistricting is based on expectations that may be at odds with reality. Big turnouts by younger voters, for example, may mess up the best-laid plans.

Texas gains two seats this time — but its population growth has mostly been among the Hispanic communities. The gerrymandering there is to make its congressional delegation whiter and is so extreme that it may not hold up in court. As in the state’s 40 percent white population getting a lock on two-thirds of the seats – if whites can be counted upon to vote along racial lines. White Power as the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, with Pestilence leading the posse? It may not work the way that Governor Abbott wants it to work.

The main way in which things like this can be dealt is to overwhelm the white supremacists with huge turnouts among demographic groups that usually turn out in small percentages, so as to return more solid Democratic majorities to both House and Senate. Then, as the Blue Dogs disavow them, Manchin and Sinema might be smitten with the rolled-up newspaper of popular justice. As in a Congress that ends the filibuster, expands the US Supreme Court and passes voting rights legislation that goes way beyond the 1965 act that has been gutted by the high court. And gives these two senators the worst and least powerful committee assignments.

It would take a tremendous amount of grassroots work to generate such a nationwide turnout to do this. It can be done.

What will work in the Democrats favor, however, is that Donald Trump and his entourage will be constantly on trial before a number of panels in the next year. We should expect him to be a convicted felon for sleazy tax fraud in New York or so on by Election Day next year. Worse for him, he incited the January 6 riot and is leaving his convicted followers to twist in the wind. If we see more terrorism from that quarter it will be even worse for Republican chances.

A year is forever in politics, but notwithstanding the historical trends Democrats are leading the generic congressional ballot polls for next year, with events and passions likely to work in our favor. If Dems can limit the bashing of one another to the primary season and come out united in the fall of 2022 there is an excellent chance of a president’s party picking up seats in a midterm election, even if that has been rare.

Annie Besant, theosopher, national liberation activist in Ireland and India.

Sunshine does not cease to warm you because you may not know anything of the constitution of the sun. Fire does not cease to burn you, because, unknowing its fierceness, you thrust your hand into the flame. It is the security of human life and human progress that the laws of nature are ever working and carrying us on with them, whether we know of them or not. But if we know them, we gain a great advantage.

Annie Besant

Bear in mind…

Education must not simply teach work – it must teach Life.

W.E.B. Du Bois

When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.

Queen Elizabeth II

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.



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