Ricky the Revolutionary? Right. As people from the inner circle of his 2009-2014 administration get put on trial and sent off to prison one by one, the big boss man’s silence has been deafening. Perhaps they await a revolutionary regime that will pardon them all, and restore lost privileges – jobs, titles, licenses to steal and so on. But a revolution is about a social upheavals, while what the former president promotes is about one man, himself. Cover page of the February 4 edition of La Critica, which the judgment in the New Business case calls to be confiscated from Martinelli because the purchase was financed with stolen public funds.
They’re off and campaigning – except, maybe…
by Eric Jackson
OFFICIALLY, campaign season began on Saturday, February 3. The reality of it has been that political activities have been going on for many months, most notoriously with the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and its allies using public funds to dole out jobs and contracts and jobs to its supporters for public works projects. The old candidate at the ribbon-cutting ceremony sort of political event is prohibited these days, and we shall see what effect that might have.
The election news was dominated by a court decision revealed the day before, on Friday, February 2, wherein the Penal Bench of the Supreme Court rejected Ricardo Martinelli’s last best card to play against his money laundering conviction and more than a decade in prison sentence, which under the Panamanian Political Constitution’s Article 180 makes him ineligible to be president. Surely his lawyers will have motions and petitions to file, and the ex-president from 2009 to 2014 does not get formally removed from the ballot without a separate process to do that that ultimately goes before the three magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal.
Who gets bribed to do what for what price is and long has been a popular topic of gossip about Panamanian justice, but by most appearances this is the end of the line for Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal’s court battles against criminal charges. Except maybe his running mate will win the election in May, be inaugurated in July and pardon his boss. The norm in this country’s political culture, however, is that when a running mate takes the main office he or she brings in his or her own crowd of retainers and relations between the beginning of the election season allies soon go sour.
Could that go differently for the Realizando Metas / Alianza ticket of Ricky Martinelli with José Raúl Mulino on the side? Perhaps. Over his long career Mulino has come across as pliant enough to be the vehicle for Martinelli’s pardon and return to power. Mulino’s game has been ticket jumping in one way or another but always the minor party figure playing the game for a cut of the action. He really has no swooning mass of supporters of his own. Might this be the chance of a lifetime for him, the hitting of the gordito with serie and folio, a prize that he’s not going to willingly give up? We shall see how transferable personality politics can be but it’s probably just a set of academic questions. Fresh polls will give us indications on how it plays in Pacora, and then there is the fact of our first-past-the-post in a crowded field one-round elections that are bound to give us another president with a plurality well short of a majority. The conventional expectation is that this old operative will not catch on as God’s elect to save Martinelli, that Mulino will not be elected as president in May.
Besides Mulino having, as one of his opponents for vice president describes, the charisma of a flowerpot, a factor that’s likely to come into play is the enforcement of another part of Judge Baloisa Marquínez’s decision in the New Business case, the government confiscation of the EPASA newspaper chain. The venerable old El Panama America – which began as an English-language publication arising from the racist Accion Comunal movement of the 1920s – and the better-selling necro porn tabloid will probably be unavailable to Team Martinelli / Mulino in short order. Martinelli has been screrming that it’s a lie by his political foes all along, but a string of court or administrative decisions in several jurisdictions have directly or implicitly upheld that this media empire was purchased with stolen Panamanian public funds that were then laundered through chains of international shell companies and numbered bank accounts.
Kenia Porcell was forced out as attorney general, but the allegations in this chart of the New Business case that was published by the Public Ministry on her shift have stood up in court.
So, in what might be something close to the penultimate hurrah of La Critica under Martinelli’s control, how was it played? Pages one, two and three dedicated to Don Ricky, with mixtures of bravado, insults and whining. Pages four, five and six largely dedicated to the other candidates. Buried on the right side of page six was a four-paragraph snippet about how Rómulo Roux has filed a complaint with the Electoral Tribunal against Ricardo Lombana, based on the alleged infraction of social media posts that compare Lombana’s stands to those of other candidates, using photos of Roux and the others. Lots of space dedicated to attacking the PRD’s Gaby Carrizo, a tiny swipe at Lombana. Divine whom Team Martinelli fears the most from that, if you can.
The first sign of formal campaign season that this reporter saw while running errands around Cocle was a large billboard for Roux that appeared on the Pan-American Highway on Saturday.
The next morning at the usual bus stop at the eastern entrance to El Bajito, it was difficult to catch a ride. The political campaigns, mostly the PRD and MOLIRENA tickets, had hired out the buses for their campaign events. There were also buses and other vehicles flying Lombana’s, Roux’s and Martinelli’s flags. Sundays usually feature longer waits to get a bus into town, but on day two of campaign season it was much longer.
Martinelli matters will dominate a few more news cycles, but look for the race to in its initial stages settle down to a close contest among Rómulo Roux, Martín Torrijos and Ricardo Lombana, with Gaby Carrizo trying to defy the jinx against a party winning back-to-back elections for the presidency and the two women on the margins, Zulay Rodríguez on the right and Maribel Gordón on the left, trying to move into contention.
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