Jackson: Breaking or skirting many rules, the campaign is at full blast

Gaby Carrizo in an archive photo from his campaign, as at the moment we can’t load new pictures. That this has become the PRD standard bearer’s defining picture in turn says mean things about the whole political patronage culture around which the party that Omar Torrijos founded now revolves. Those sort of machine politics were always part of it, but now the crushing weight of people who know which side gets its bread buttered and very little else meant that nobody was able to get through to the inner circle and tell them what a stupid pose this is.

The PRD may not hold the presidency but still they go all-out and stretch the rules

by Eric Jackson

The Electoral Code says that public resources should not be used for campaigning, and that candidates are not supposed to appear at ribbon-cuttings for public works or the like in the run-up to an election. Im the January 17th edition of the 24-page Metro Libre, pages 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 and 13 are dominated by government-paid advertisements, mostly gushy stuff about how the Cortizo administration is delivering on promises by dedicating this or that project or facility. To return the favor the lead story is about how most people will not pay more with the announced electricity rate hike, and just below the front-page fold readers are told of a new list of school supplies for which there will be no sales tax.

The ruling party buys happy news, and to the extent possible suppresses unfavorable stuff. The Metro Libre is more craven than the rest. Ricardo Martinelli’s media go way beyond the bounds of reality to paint unhappy pictures. La Prensa and a piranha school of small online media have a history of bad experiences with PRD governments so won’t shut up on command. La Estrella and El Siglo are PRD-leaning in their editorial lines. MEDCOM and TVN are more laid-back and even-handed, being mostly owned by a few rich families that are not easily bullied or bribed, but also avoiding expensive fights with the government.

Every time that the PRD has been in power, with an election coming up, it has been like this. They put the press corps through their acid tests and leave a lot of people who took their deals with reputations in tatters. The defenses of those compromised will be convincing to those who wanted to be convinced in the first place. This time it’s even worse because First Quantum and its predecessors in interest got some high-profile media people who were not and are not particularly identified with the PRD to jump on the bandwagon for the sale of important parts of Panama — lands, waters, sovereign political processes and so on — for a mining colony in Panama.

In response, a PRD-friendly Electoral Tribunal put out a warning that anyone who publishes or posts something that might psychologically harm a top public official might get five years in prison for it. It doesn’t apply the other way — this reporter has over the years been (unsuccessfully) prosecuted on patently bogus charges, threatened with the planting of drugs for a set-up arrest, offered a manila envelope with undercover cops looking on from the nearby background, been beaten up by thugs who demanded that I abandon my home and farm, had The Panama News website and emails repeatedly subjected to electronic attacks, had my born-in-Colon Panamanian citizenship impugned. But in Noriega times La Prensa got much rougher treatment than that, and over the years Miguel Antonio Bernal’s Alternativa, Mauricio Valenzuela’s publications and other small media could tell stories comparable to or worse than mine.

eeew GROSS
Photo by the Presidencia, way back when. The guy on the right, Alejandro Moncada Luna, was Noriega’s operative to shut down the opposition press, prosecuted the editor of The Panama News for calling a guy who had done time for fraud in Colorado and who had moved his operation here a “hustler,” then was impeached as a member of Supreme Court and sent to prison for amassing a fortune whose provenance he could not explain while on the bench. (He’s out now, as as we don’t have any effective disbarment, practicing law again. On the left side of the photo is Ricardo Martinelli, now going through desperate motions to avoid serving his more than 10-year money laundering sentence

Will it be back to the usual vote buying? The PRD legislature’s additions to the president’s budgets suggest that. For them, the name of the game is concentrating on the down-ballot races for legislators, mayors and representantes. The top of the ticket? Not only is their presidential candidate compromised by the wildly unpopular mining colony proposal, not only are his gestures the subjects of jokes, but the norm is that a party that holds the presidency loses it in the next elections. But down the ticket, San Miguelito legislator Raúl Pineda gave away 1,300 bicycles on a day when the Electoral Tribunal said that there was to be no campaigning.

This sort of stuff didn’t work in Noriega times, nor in Martinelli’s 2014 proxy campaign.

Polls have shown Martinelli as the front runner, but if he’s thrown off of the ballot due to his criminal conviction, then the next several candidates in the crowded field are within the margin of error of one another. It could be that a small and detested minority of people who would sell their votes — and their country — for a bag of groceries would swing the election.

It might happen, but don’t count on it. Selective and unconstitutional privileges for the political caste, threats, illegal inducements, perverse legal and regulatory rulings — all of that — but it seems that the nation is pretty fed up with all the games and will be looking for someone who does not play them.


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