Cablegate: Panama: 2009 National Election Youth Demographic

Published: Fri 25 Jul 2008 02:58 PM
DE RUEHZP #0605/01 2071458
R 251458Z JUL 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000605
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/21/2018
1.4 (d)
1. (SBU) Of the 2.2 million Panamanians eligible to vote in
the May 3, 2009 general elections, 53% will be voters between
the ages of 18 and 40. The youth account for one third to one
half of political parties memberships. Efforts to reach out
to these new voters included multi-tiered organizations
designed to mobilize this important voting bloc on election
day. POL met with national youth secretaries of the
contending political parties: Cambio Democratic,
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), and the Panamenista
Party to discuss youth presence in the upcoming presidential
elections. In addition to informal meetings, POL also
attended youth-related campaign events and engaged in
dialogue with youth activists to understand: who represented
the youth demographic; what they wanted from the presidential
candidates; why they have engaged in the elections, and how
they intended to impact Panama's political landscape.
Growing Presence Among the Parties
2. (SBU) According to Panama's Tribunal Electoral (TE), 2.2
million citizens will be eligible to vote in the May 3, 2009
general elections. Of that figure, 53% of Panamanian voters
are between the ages of 18 and 40. As the youth vote would
comprise over half of the electorate in 2009, youth
membership has also been a significant component within
Panama's political parties. Democratic Change's (CD) youth
secretary Christina Maria Gonzalez noted that youth
supporters represented 35% of the party's membership.
Likewise, 30% of governing Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD) membership was between the ages of 18 and 30. The
opposition's largest political party, Panamenista Party,
doubled the number of registered voters in the youth
demographic from 50,000 to 110,000 between June 2007 to June
2008, accounting for 50% of party membership asserted
Panamenista Youth Secretary and legislative candidate Aldofo
"Beby" Valderrama.
3. (SBU) Presidential candidates have reached out
aggressively to this important youth demographic. The parties
have established multi-level systems to organize youth
outreach at the national, provincial, and local level. For
example, Valderrama described the Panamenista youth network
as a four-tiered pyramid of youth secretaries, delegates,
leaders, and volunteers. The national youth secretary and the
youth executive board (comprised of 15 members) streamlined
the party's political platform and outreach initiatives to
youth delegates that were assigned to manage outreach in
Panama's nine provinces. The youth delegates administered
campaign activities at the provincial level and supervised a
team of youth leaders (3 to 4 persons) in each voting
district. These leaders managed close to 150 volunteers that
were spread out in neighborhoods located in each district.
Heavily populated voting districts that historically
determined election results, noted Valderrama, such as 8-8,
8-9,and 8-10 would have a larger number of volunteers to
mobilize the youth vote. The April 2008 Tribunal Electoral's
report stated that within the 8-8, 8-9, and 8-10 precincts, 1
in 3 Panamanian voters are between the ages of 18 and 35.
Valderrama noted that because of this significant statistic,
the Panamenista party directed approximately 700 youth
volunteers across these three districts.
Social Background of the Youth
4. (SBU) The youth demographic among the competing political
parties represented a diverse mix of social classes. PRD
youth supporters were primarily working class Panamanians
that attended the University of Panama, affirmed PRD youth
secretary Samuel Buitrago. Conversely, the CD was comprised
of young professionals from the middle and upper class. The
Panamenista party held the most diverse mix of young
supporters and extended across social, economic, and
educational status. Buitrago noted that PRD's university
outreach focused on establishing a relationship with the
youth attending the University of Panama. In contrast,
Valderrama highlighted that the Panamenista youth campaign
connected with student organizations in both public and
private universities.
Platform Identical Among Social Class
5. (SBU) Despite the various backgrounds of youth activists
within the contending parties, the issues important to the
Panamanian youth were identical. Education reform and job
security were mentioned consistently as their top concerns,
during POL's discussion with youth leaders and supporters
from all parties. University students and young professionals
were dissatisfied with Panama's poor quality of education.
Most felt inadequately prepared for job opportunities
presented by foreign investors. Poor education heightened
Panama's economic challenges such as the growing income gap
and stagnant social mobility among the poor and working
class, asserted PRD youth supporter Fernando Paniagua. To
combat this problem, youth leaders constructed their own
political platform and urged presidential candidates to
address these issues. Youth activists in the PRD and
Panamenista party requested a "Congress of the Youth" that
would operate as a separate entity within each party and
ensure a voice for young voters.
Internet is Key to Youth Outreach
6. (U) "The use of on-line technology is tied to the fact
that 65,000 new young voters will participate in the 2009
presidential elections," La Prensa journalist Manuel Vega Loo
wrote on June 1, 2008. Candidates have used social networking
sites Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and Youtube to: mobilize
youth supporters, publicize their platforms, recruit campaign
volunteers, and increase party membership. From June to July,
competing political parties have increased registration to
their respective Facebook webpage from 5,000 to 7,000
7. (C) "Internet marketing is a science. You have to pay for
it to win," PRD youth secretary Buitrago told POL on July 16.
Presidential candidate Balbina Herrera's campaign hired a
team of computer experts to manage and operate her online
campaign, Buitrago stated. These contractors were focused
solely on promoting Herrera's campaign events, political
platform, and recruiting volunteers through e-mail, online
chat, Herrera's webpage,social networking sites, and mobile
text messaging. Buitrago asserted that hiring a team of
experts accounted for Herrera's efficient online
communications whereas her challenger Juan Carlos Navarro
used campaign volunteers to manage his online network. When
discussing internet strategies with the competing political
parties, CD and the Panamenista party confirmed that their
online campaign was also managed by volunteers within the
party. Herrera's distinctive approach to hire online campaign
coordinators produced an effective internet strategy. The
Herrera campaign responded to POL's online membership
requested in 24 hours and has submitted daily e-mails that
publicize her campaign events and highlight her political
platform, allowing her to promptly frame the debate on issues
important to the Panamanian youth.
The Obama Effect
8. (C) Across all political parties, youth leaders noted that
Barack Obama's popularity with American voters under 30
accounted for his win in the Democratic primary elections. As
such, youth secretaries in Panama's political
parties implemented Obama's campaign strategy to encourage
youth engagement at the grass roots level. Buitrago and
Valderrama stated that their parties closely monitored
outreach strategies and implemented these tactics into their
9. (C) Buitrago noted that a New York Times article which
outlined Obama's effective use of Facebook, Myspace, and
YouTube, was the stimulus for Herrera's decision to hire
online campaign coordiantors instead of recruiting
non-experienced campaign volunteers. Likewise, Valderrama
mentioned that a Public Diplomacy "Democratic Leadership"
International Visitor Program (IVLP) in the U.S. provided him
the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Obama's campaign which
courted the youth vote and decided a political platform that
encouraged youth participation would be more effective than
conventional tactics used to attract young voters such as
concerts and rallies.
10 (U). Valderrama's effort paid off. He organized the
"Youth for Varela" campaign event that attracted 3,500
supporters for presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela.
Varela defeated his challenger Alberto Vallarino in a
landslide victory of 56% to 34% in the Panamenista primary
elections. Following the July 6primary elections, La Prensa
reporter Ereida Prietto-Barreiro wrote that Varela's
aggressive outreach to young voters was an important factor
in his victory against Vallarino. In the same news article,
Hatuey Castro, a Vallarino supporter, confirmed Barreiro's
observation and stated, "Varela talked to the youth. The
Panamenista party has a lot of yong people and Varela
captivated them with his platform."
11. (C) This is the second report in a series of cables that
track Panama's national elections. The Panamanian youth are
getting the attention that they deserve. Political parties
realized that the youth demographic have an enormous impact
on the primaries and could determine the general election.
However, the youth movement continues to face the challenge
of maintaining a cohesive organization and ensuring their
voice will be heard by presidential candidates. Youth leaders
will have to mobilize and attract more young voters to
emphasize the power of their vote on election day. POL will
continue to follow youth presence and its impact on upcoming
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