Editorials: A troubling election and The high court to decide – maybe

The people will choose – wisely or not. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

A troubling election and “dirty campaigning”

Is there some sort of a pact about the rules of what can be said about this year’s election campaign? The Electoral Tribunal talks of a “pact,” but it was their intention to exclude the small media from any participation in the talks leading up to this. The three magistrates act as if, rather than an individual right that all persons have, freedom of the press is an exclusionary privilege limited to business corporations that are owned or controlled by the “right” families.

The Panama News was not asked to sign any agreement as to the rules of campaign coverage. We are not parties to the magistrates’ “pact.” Those three men may get away with giving the force of law to an “agreement” to those intentionally left out as parties, but then, on matters constitutional like freedom of expression, the Supreme holds the power to overrule the Electoral Tribunal, notwithstanding the tribunal’s exclusive jurisdiction over elections. And how does Panama’s constitution frame the matter?

Article 37. Every person may express their thinking by words, by writing or by any other medium, without being subject to prior censorship; but there are legal responsibilities when one of these media attack the reputation or honor of persons or social safety or public order.

So is it “dirty campaigning,” and thus a violation of some law, to truthfully and without calling for public disorders, look back at a candidate’s record in public life and comment on it? Without such discourse the nation is left with often insincere promises, often corrupt blandishments, often mindless sloganeering – or would-be deification that would land people in some version of Hell in many a religious tradition – as the guides for our choices. That’s unacceptable and de jure limitation to that stuff in campaign coverage is unconstitutional.

People’s relationship to the very unpopular strip mining industry is relevant, and that includes pronouncements over the years about it, familial relations to it, legal representations for or against it and most especially actions as government officials with respect to it. Gaby Carrizo and José Raúl Mulino and the latter’s fugitive boss Ricky Martinelli are heavily tainted by the mining issue. Rómulo Roux, Martín Torrijos and Zulay Rodríguez are also compromised to lesser extents. Ricardo Lombana and Maribel Gordón are and have been fairly solidly against strip mining for their various reasons. The others, we can only figure out by trying to parse their words as candidates.

What to do about the Social Security Fund? The various candidates have floated their ideas but Martín Torrijos and Gaby Carrizo have records in public office related to that set of subjects and it’s absolutely proper to make reference to that.

The situation with the public debt? It’s severe and it’s fair to look at whether any of the particular candidates’ promises are consistent with the reality of the situation. Even if observations about are negative.

Let’s not play corny pop-psychoanalysis games, pretend that we read minds or stretch facts and declarations beyond their fair meanings. But let’s not go to the polls as if we are dim-witted children. Regardless of what three election magistrates want, let’s discuss the candidates’ public records and make those considerations central to our choice as a nation.


The Electoral Tribunal has been taking such signs down, arguing that since Martinelli isn’t on the ballot they are misleading and improper. We might argue. Mulino is running as a front man for Martinelli and we should be aware of that. But then the question is whether a convicted criminal fugitive’s proxy, who was not selected in his party’s primary, should be on the ballot at all. Photo by Eric Jackson.

With less than four weeks to go before the vote

Panama’s Supreme Court has to decide whether Ricardo Martinelli’s chosen stand-in, José Raúl Mulino, is on or off the presidential ballot. Because Mulino did not stand the test of a primary and because the would-be ticket does not name both a presidential and vice-presidential nominee, the former minister’s nomination does not appear to be in order.

Is that a trifle to be ignored, seeing as Mulino leads in the polls? Is all the publicity saying or suggesting that Mulino is the surrogate for a convicted criminal hiding out in the Nicaraguan Embassy also a trifling election law infraction? Are the campaign declarations emanating from an asylee in a diplomatic mission also trifling violations of international law? Are the years of overt campaigning for Martinelli / Mulino in the stolen properties of the EPASA newspapers, bought with money skimmed from public works contracts, also irrelevant to the case?

The magistrates must decide and it’s in the nation’s interest that they do so as quickly as possible.


The Dragon
Bruce Lee on the sidewalk. Photo by Sal Ami.

   Loneliness is only an opportunity to cut adrift and find yourself.

Bruce Lee   

Bear in mind…

The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.

Sheryl Sandberg

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Nelson Mandela

Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

Dolly Parton


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