Same committee faces and deals for this legislature’s last year

Juan Diego Vásquez, the young independent deputy from San Miguelito, was the only vote against Benicio Robinson for leadership of the Budget Committee. Vásquez isn’t running for re-election and won’t be a running mate on a presidential ticket because he’s not old enough. He may yet have a political future if that’s what he wants to do with his life. National Assembly photo.

Same old, but it won’t likely hold

by Eric Jackson

Benicio Robinson (PRD-Bocas del Toro) continues as president of the all-powerful — if you are into political patronage politics — with National Assembly Budget Committee. Raúl Pineda (PRD-Panama City) as vice president and Cenobia Vargas (PRD-Panama City) repeating as committee secretary.

Surely on the agenda are more under-the-table — because the secretary won’t allow public access to the records about them — deals to re-elect PRD office holders. Vargas got through her primary, but her uphill court battles to deny access to public records and her ill-fated proposal to deal with rape by giving every girl aged 12 or younger a $75 per month subsidy while keeping criminal laws against them having abortions in place are likely to generate some general election problems that would go beyond a general shift against the PRD. If she gets ousted next May, she would join independent San Miguelito deputy among those not returning to the committee.

Noriega’s guy and that whole slate in 1989, Mireya’s crowd in 2004, the Martinelistas in 2014 — all pointed examples that under the dictatorship’s 1972 constitution that made political patronage a centerpiece of Panamanian government, it doesn’t always work to get people or parties re-elected. Benicio has been there forever and will probably return, but membership in and control of the National Assembly are up for grabs.

And how did Robinson, Pineda and Vargas do it? With the help of Martinelli supporter Yanibel Ábrego, who lost the Cambio Democratico presidential primary to Rómulo Roux and can’t be on the ballot for any office next year, and her dozen or more CD Martinelistas. You just know that, no matter what smiley face he may put on it, PRD standard bearer Gaby Carrizo, who will be running against Martinelli or some puppet surrogate of the latter, is not happy about the situation.

Ábrego herself? She has nearly a year to go in the legislature before she has to leave and the sticky fingers from Capira will do that time on the also powerful Credentials Committee. They vet or torpedo presidential appointees and allow or don’t allow impeachment moves against top executive and judicial branch figures. Benicio Robinson is on that committee, as are CD / Martinelista figures Mayín Correa and Sergio Gálvez, the self-proclaimed stud bull from El Chorrillo. Roux seems unlikely to allow Correa or Gávexz to run for anything down-ticket as Cambio Democratico and says that he certainly would not allow Ábrego to do so. The 15 CD deputies who defied Roux in favor of Martinelli’s directions seem destined to go.

Same old, same old? Well, yes, for the next year in Panama’s legislature. But then the roster changes, probably quite dramatically once an electorate that isn’t very happy at the moment has its say next May but in any case with a bunch of retirements, voluntary or otherwise.

Another assembly with a bunch of new faces with old ways of doing things? Panama has been there and done that, too. We shall see. The percentage of the electorate that becomes demanding rather than waiting to see may affect the nature of the legislature after this one.


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