Cablegate: Observers, Opacity, and a Pledge. Panama Election

Published: Tue 16 Mar 2004 01:24 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958:N/A
B. PANAMA 0465
Summary: Observers, Opacity and a Pledge
1. (SBU) With less than two months to go, electoral
issues are finally gaining prominence in Panama's media.
Panamanian and foreign observers organize for the May 2
elections. Embassy plans to coordinate with OAS and
Ombudsman's Office observers to ensure broad coverage of
key polling areas on election day (although the Embassy has
made clear that we are not official observers). Ombudsman
Juan A. Tejada and Electoral prosecutor Gerardo Solis
demanded an accounting of the Presidency's discretionary
funds, but President Moscoso refused to cooperate. A lack
of Party support and dissension in the ranks marred the
signature ceremony for Political Party youth leaders'
Electoral Ethics Pact and highlighted weaknesses in the
Endara campaign, which has lost some steam. End Summary.
Electoral Tribunal in high gear
2. (SBU) Electoral Tribunal President Eduardo Valdes
announced on a live TV talk show that 20,124 Panamanians
have received Electoral Tribunal training for Election Day.
Mostly between 18-25 years old, these individuals will
supervise voting centers and staff individual precincts
(called voting tables in Spanish). Each receives $40 for
working from 6:00 a.m. until past midnight. Electoral
Tribunal authorities nationwide had a closed-door meeting
over the weekend in Chiriqui Province for one final
discussion of the "Plan General de Elecciones" (Overall
Election Plan). Among other issues, they discussed how to
interpret the formula for allocating legislative seats
based on residual votes and voting for the handicapped.
Embassy, OAS election observers
3. (SBU) Embassy Panama will field 12-15 two-person non-
official observer teams on election weekend (May 1-2) to
report conditions in key areas. Likewise, the Defensoria
del Pueblo (Ombudsman's Office) and the Organization for
American States (OAS) plan to organize official observer
teams for Panama's elections. OAS Country Director Hernan
Hurtado Prem extended the tin cup to Embassy in a March 8
letter detailing proposed OAS plans to observe Panama's
elections and a $129,888 budget. Embassy has repeatedly
turned down Electoral Tribunal and Washington-based
electoral NGOs' funding requests, noting confidence in
Panama's electoral system. EmbOffs are studying how to
coordinate with OAS and Defensoria observers to ensure the
best possible coverage of the country, while avoiding
financial commitments or the public perception that Embassy
teams are official observers.
4. (SBU) The Defensoria's Director for International
Affairs Max Lopez and Director for Education and Human
Rights Promotion Cesar Solano advised Embassy that they
plan to field 300 Panamanian observers for the May 2
general elections, an ambitious plan considering human,
financial, and logistical constraints. Also, Ombudsman
Juan A. Tejada will use Electoral Tribunal funds to host
Latin American Ombudsmen during the elections. Tejada
estimates that between 7-10 Ombudsmen will observe
elections in remote areas of Panama. Solano plans to meet
Electoral Tribunal authorities to discuss the scope of
observation. Like Embassy Panama, the Defensoria will pay
special attention to the Ngobe-Bugle (indigenous)
Reservation, which will be electing legislators for the
first time.
Moscoso says mind your own beeswax
5. (SBU) Controversy over how President Moscoso is using
her discretionary budget allotment continues. Electoral
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis met privately at the Presidential
Palace with Economy and Finance Minister Norberto Delgado,
Minister of the Presidency Mirna Pitti and Comptroller
General Alvin Weeden. Solis confirmed media accounts to
PolOffs that he requested the GOP provide him a "finiquito"
(a list of check recipients and justification for the
checks) in lieu of a full-blown inspection. Comptroller
Weeden criticized Solis, a Perez Balladares (PRD)-appointee
for playing politics. (NOTE: Solis' father, Menalco Solis,
manages Solidarity Party Presidential Candidate Guillermo
Endara's campaign. Some have alleged the money was used to
renovate former Minister of the Presidency Yvonne Young's
house. END NOTE.) Solis added that he believes the GOP
will seek a way to remove him from office for abuse of
authority, knowing that its control of the Supreme Court
will allow them to quash appeals.
6. (SBU) Two officials from the Defensoria del Pueblo
(Ombudsman's Office) predicted that Moscoso would refuse to
publish her use of the discretional funds as the Defensoria
requested under Panama's Transparency Law. Providing the
requested information would set a precedent that political
heavyweights find threatening. Ombudsman Juan A. Tejada
said after waiting the 30 days that the law grants Minister
Pitti to release the information, he will submit a habeas
data request to the Supreme Court. Defensoria staff
believes the GOP-controlled Supreme Court would deny such a
Would Martinelli vote for opponent?
7. (SBU) In a 30-minute TV interview by well-known boxing
commentator Juan Carlos Tapia during his popular program
called The Best of Boxing, Cambio Democratico presidential
candidate Ricardo Martinelli stated that if he were not
running himself, he would vote for Arnulfista candidate
Jose Miguel Aleman. Surprised when asked, Martinelli's
first asked if voiding his vote was an option. When Tapia
said no and pressed him, Martinelli said he would vote for
Aleman, but only if he distances himself from President
Moscoso, a difficult prospect for most Panamanians to
imagine. Martinelli's campaign manager told PolOff that
Martinelli chose the lesser threat Aleman because whereas
CD's internal "likely voter" polls show Aleman at 11.5%,
Torrijos is at 50%. Martinelli insisted during the
interview that he and his associates are not "traditional
politicians", but businessmen and managers who want to make
a difference. As in the past, Martinelli criticized
traditional parties and recent public opinion polls.
Youth pledge to play fair - kind of
8. (SBU) On Wednesday, representatives of the Political
Parties Youth Forum signed an electoral ethics pact
promising to promote an open, transparent, democratic and
participatory May 2 election. The Pact explicitly endorses
the Electoral Tribunal. Promoters hoped to use the
disorganized and poorly attended event to foment a more
active and influential political role for youth leaders
despite snubs from the older generation in their own
parties. Representatives from all legally registered
political parties except the Solidarity Party signed the
pact. Martin Torrijos (PRD) was the only Presidential
Candidate who showed up, but he departed before the event
began, leaving PRD legislator Hector Aleman behind to
attend to the youth. Cambio Democratico (CD) First Vice
Presidential candidate Roberto Henriquez also attended. No
ranking representatives of Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel
Aleman participated. Solidarity Party youth leaders didn't
participate because they believe the Electoral Tribunal
(ET) is too responsive to partisan pressures. Only PRD,
MOLIRENA, and CD youth showed up in large numbers.
10. (SBU) COMMENT: By boycotting the event, Solidarity
is snubbing the Tribunal for what Solidarity believes is
the Tribunal's favoritism to the Arnulfistas. For
instance, giving President Moscoso sole rights to the image
of former President Arnulfo Arias. Panamanian analysts
believe the Endara team's attacks on the Electoral Tribunal
only serve to highlight weaknesses in his campaign. Print
media have reported recent defections from Solidarity to
other political camps as significant symptoms of campaign
sickness in the Endara camp. Also several influential
supporters have either distanced themselves from Endara or
abandoned his campaign, disgusted by the domineering yet
clumsy tactics of campaign manager Menalco Solis.
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