Panama’s 2024 election season: what’s next?

Wags in the Twitterverse and serious observers elsewhere are fairly united in saying that THIS GUY got his ass kicked in yesterday’s primary for a Cambio Democratico party that he created, then left when he couldn’t control it, then tried to regain possession of it via the Yanibel Ábrego proxy campaign. It leaves him without an obvious running mate, although there would be no shortage of people whom he could hire to do that, or to run in his place in case he’s disqualified and seeks to run the presidency from a prison cell.

Elections 2024 – what has been settled and what remains to be seen

by Eric Jackson

* First of all, by losing the CD presidential primary, Yanibel Ábrego can’t run on any other party’s ticket or as an independent for any office next year. Theoretically she might get nominated for a spot on the Cambio Democratico ticket, but that’s very unlikely. Rómulo Roux would have the final word on that and there’s bad blood. She and her supporters might migrate to Ricardo Martinelli’s RM party, but first of all that’s a long shot bet given the chances of the former president being convicted of a crime and ruled off of the ballot. Her potential to remain a political player would be for him to escape disqualification, with the presidency, then appoint her to some executive branch post.

* Rómulo Roux says that he will talk to any party, perhaps all parties, with the exception of RM and the PRD in search of an alliance for next May’s vote. But is he a strong enough candidate for any other party or hopeful to want to sign on as a junior partner with him running for president? Those negotiations are happening and will happen, and must bear fruit or not by a September 30 deadline for alliances among parties to be formalized.

WHICH good stuff might be coming back? If it’s an election in which voters are looking for change, perhaps that’s not a very effective campaign slogan.

* Alliances between independents and parties are not allowed, at least not formally so. The top three indies as measured by petition signatures gathered by the end of this month of their particular races get ballot spots. But those folks might resign their independent aspirations and sign on as a nominee of a party or alliance by the September 30 deadline.

* An independent who did very well last time, Ricardo Lombana, has a new party, the Movimiento Otro Camino. With some prodding and assistance from entertainer and former tourism minister Rubén Blades, Lombana has been in talks to put together a both formal and off-the-books de facto slate with a bunch of independents. The attorney and former diplomat has served in both PRD and Panameñista administrations and if voters are really looking to break with the traditional parties and all their games, he is well situated to take advantage. However, at the moment he is not at the head or the pack or very close to it.

* Blades as campaign consultant? As a party boss and campaign strategist the musician and actor has been profoundly inept over the years. Lombana would need to develop a new political operation in which heretofore unknown talent rise to the top in order to have much chance of winning.

* The independent presidential candidates on the right and left respectively, Zulay Rodríguez and Maribel Gordón, look at traditional bases in the low double digits. But in a seven-way race, were either to catch fire and double her support, that could be enough to win the presidency. Zulay is in the PRD as a legislator, but on the left side of the PRD there are folks saying good things about Maribel.

* The PRD, at the presidential level, is broken into three. Its de facto leader, Bocas del Toro legislator Benicio Robinson, did much to break it up and can’t be expected to do much to put it back together. Thus former PRD president Martín Torrijos is the center-right Partido Popular nominee, Zulay Rodríguez is now an independent neofascist and prospects for alliances there look dim.

Architect Sandra Escorcia, a Civilista in Noriega times, has had friendlier relations with post-invasion PRD administrations and for 77 days served as Transito director at the start of the Martinelli regime, before being driven out over an argument about taxi permits. She’s running as an independent for mayor of Panama City and has nasty things to say about Roux sticking with Martinelli for a lot longer than she did.

* The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is, like the British and Australian Labour parties, Spain’s Socialist Workers Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party, a member of the Socialist International. Their social allegiances are mostly toward big business these days — that’s certainly the case with Gaby Carrizo — but the party does have its left wing that hold fast to certain socialist ideas. These folks, usually in the online magazine Bayano digital, sometimes have nice things to say about left-wing labor economist Maribel Gordón. The historical problem is that the 21-year dictatorship that gave rise to the PRD also killed or disappeared dozens of activists with the left factions to which Gordón is closest (or the precursors of those formations) and beat, jailed or exiled hundreds of others.

* So where does Yanibel Ábrego go now? Blades and some others predict to the PRD. Is Gaby Carrizo so oblivious to the way things look to allow her onto his bandwagon? Perhaps so.


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