Panama City mayoral race begins to take shape

More than half a millennium of bad urban planning: Mayor José Luis Fábrega celebrates the anniversary of Panama City’s Spanish-recognized founding by Pedrarias The Cruel nearly 504 years ago. Actually Panama La Vieja, now a downscale city neighborhood, was the site of an indigenous town noted for the work of its goldsmiths. The Spaniards did their best to erase the memory of the town they turned into the first European settlement on the Pacific Ocean, but a little more than 150 years later a force led by the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan did its best to wipe the original Spanish Panama Ciy off the map. Archive photo by the Panama City municipal government.

The incumbent is probably out, alliance talks continue through the end of September, but these things we know

by Eric Jackson

The PRD, like most of the other established political parties, declined to choose all of their candidates in their parties or conventions, leaving open possibilities to fill them in light of coalition talks with other parties or otherwise. It was a no-brainer that the Democratic Revolutionary Party would not have wanted a mayoral primary in our capital city, whether the intention was just to renominate José Luis “Tanque de Gas” Fábrega Polleri without a primary or to pick someone else. According to various media reports, it is expected that the party will choose somebody else in the process of negotiations with other forces.

Fábrega has been a notorious dud. The worst of it showed early on, an artificial beach just to the west of where the grossly polluted — with smell to match — Matasnillo River empties out in to Panama Bay. It was billed as this selling point to foreign buyers of condos in the area, promising them beachfront properties. Providers of sand to dump on the existing flats had been identified / selected, to the point where the public was assured that the material would come from, around the Perlas Islands.

The failure of such sand replacement schemes at beaches around the world? Shhhhhh. Everybody was also supposed to shut up about the pollution. There were foolish gringos with more money than brains to be conned.

But some wag coined the term “Playa Mojón” — Turd Beach — and even if a majority of the city council went along with the mayor’s scheme neither the public nor the national government did.

Then there was the big idea of a new seafood market to replace the functional enough one that was a gift from Japan some years back. As in, a costly traffic and parking disruption at the western entrance to Santa Ana and the Casco Viejo. To top it off, a proposal for a cable car from there to the top of Ancon Hill. At least they didn’t say “Just like Disney World,” but the proposal was taken as non-serious by just about everybody except for Mayor Fábrega.

So it seems that if the PRD is to take on the daunting task of repeating in the presidency for the first time in a very long time — we might talk about coups d’etat and fraudulent elections, but excepting those, probably since World War II — they figure that to have that slim chance they ned not to be weighed down by Fábrega.

But if an alliance is to give the nomination to another party, that pact is yet to be made, nor are its probable signatories all that obvious. MOLIRENA is allied with the PRD in this cycle, but would that want to hold onto a loser for the next one? It is, after all, an alliance of convenience and patronage sharing rather than of principles.

So figure that Fábrega is out, and if not, then the PRD might be stuck with him as an also-ran.

Whom does that leave? By an old tradition of alternation, that would be the Panameñista, Guillermo “Willie” Bermúdez, the representante from Don Bosco. 

Willie has some money behind him. Billboards by the Pan-American Highway in the Interior, and all that. Gotta appeal to the upscale city residents who drive to their beach or mountain cottages every weekend, after all. The more plebian capitalinos might also see those signs if they are riding the bus, but you might expect them to be less impressed.

What’s not so impressive so far is any list of accomplishments or principled stands to Bermúdez’s credit.

Is there going to be a coalition between the Panameñistas, headed by the former mayor, José Isabel Blandón Figueroa, and Rómulo Roux’s dominant faction of Cambio Democrático? It’s possible, but that pact has yet to be made and its extension down to the local level is also still a hypothetical. Roux has designated legislator Génesis Arjona as the CD mayoral candidate. But she’s an undistinguished faction-hopper and it would be easy to see how that nomination might be negotiated away in some fashion.

Is THIS the real race? Current independent legislator Edison Broce, who got ballot status by finishing first in petition signatures but since has been embraced by Ridardo Lombana’s Movimiento Otro Camino (MOCA)?

If this is truly to be a “change” election, it may be The Year of The Independents, headed by 2019’s top independent, Ricardo Alberto Lombana González.

Might part of the women’s vote that traditionally goes Panameñista because women got the right to vote and elected the country’s first female president swing toward MOCA because Lombana is the grand-nephew of Panamanian feminist icon Clara González? On the whole, this generation of Panamanian women are better educated than their male contemporaries and to be expected to be a bit more astute than that, despite the symbolic attractions. In a head-to-head matchup count on the Panama City female electorate to be more demanding and astute than that. It may work to the benefit of Arjona, if she remains as the sole woman among a crowded field of mayoral hopefuls. However, as Election Day approaches look for things to polarize between a couple of leading candidates and for women as well as men to be in a tactical voting mode of thinking.

It’s a long way from now until next May, so expect some twists and turns.


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