The Re-birth of the Panameņista Party?
Monday, May 08 2006 @ 12:22 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
This issue came up when I asked Marco Ameglio how hard he thought it was going to be to make up ground against the PRD who seems to be running with high approval ratings, who are probably going to get the canal referendum passed later this year, and who appear to be fairly popular. Ameglio said the PRD is actually not doing as well as what's reflected in the La Prensa newspaper, which tends to be bias in favor of the PRD. He thinks that the PRD is not as popular as what's being presented, and that there is room for them to gain ground.
Ameglio specifically pointed to the election process that was being carried out yesterday as the first step toward the "healing" of the Panameņista party. We discussed the defeats suffered by the party after the Endara and Moscoso reigns, and he pointed to antiquated internal practices and policies that were designed to maintain power within the party centralized and "under control."
The Panameņista party recently underwent a complete re-vamp of their internal practices and policies, a reform effort that was spearheaded and pushed through by Marco Ameglio. They are now actually going to have fair and open primaries to elect their leaders and a board of directors. The election yesterday was to elect 1,356 delegates to their national convention which will be held in July. These delegates will elect the new party leadership at that convention, and will shape the future of the party, especially for the next Panamanian presidential election in 2009.
We spoke briefly about numbers. As of March 2006 there were about 196,000 Panameņista party members, and Ameglio pointed out that as of last night there were more than 202,000 members. They are currently leading an effort to recruit as many people as they can into the party to gather strength, an effort that will continue into the future. According to the reporting on the election in the papers this morning, about half of the party membership turned out to vote yesterday, and Ameglio blamed the heavy rains yesterday for keeping people at home and lowering turnout.
In the 2004 Panamanian national election, 1,499,072 cast valid votes, and the "opposition" was divided between Endara (462,766), Aleman (245,845), and Martinelli (79,595). If they had found a way to unit their efforts early in the process, they probably would have been able to beat Martin Torrijos with their combined 954,456 votes, compared to the 711,447 votes for Torrijos.
Thinking about these numbers, I asked Ameglio about the need for form an alliance with all of the other primary political powers in the country to guarantee an "opposition" victory in the next national election. Ameglio was really more concerned with the close-in process that was happening last night, but was willing to play along and speculate a little. Considering that the PRD can usually count on about 35% of the vote no matter what happens, and that the Panameņista party right now only can count on 202,000 voters, then they will have to form an alliance in order to gather the strength they will need to beat the PRD next time.
When I asked Ameglio who he was primarily interested in working with in an alliance, he said "everyone," and indicated that they were completely open to working with all existing political groups and organizations to try to gather strength and political energy. For example, the "Solidarity" party, which was lifted from relative obscurity by adopting Endara for the last election and the "Liberal" party, one of the oldest and most established parties in Panama, are working to join forces with the "Patriotic Union" party. If the new Panameņista party can join forces with the "Patriotic Union" then they will be about three-quarters of the way to where they need to be.
I specifically asked Ameglio about past Arnulfista blunders and the missed opportunities after the Endara and Moscoso administrations. He quickly pointed out that the reforms he pushed through to modernize the Panameņista party were in direct response to political mistakes made by power-hungry controlling powers within the party in the past, and were an effort to revitalize the Panameņista party and to give them a fighting chance for the next election. He didn't say it in so many words, but Ameglio made it clear they were tossing Mireya Moscoso out, and erasing much of the damage she caused. If the elections last night were the re-birth of the Panameņista party, then Mireya Moscoso is the after-birth of that process.
It was interesting to note that in the paper this morning, Mireya Moscoso would not say who she voted for in the election yesterday. That's probably because all of the candidates paid her to keep her mouth shut. Moscoso is widely blamed as being responsible for dragging the Panameņista party down to where it is now, just one step away from the crack-pipe of political power. The PRD is having a field day digging up corruption left over from the Moscoso rape of Panama, and are hammering away in the public media with a Chinese-water-torture of allegations, lawsuits, scandals, reports, and discoveries. Duro-dollars, CEMIS, Afú, FIS, Spadafora, Posada, drip, drip, drip...
And, Moscoso's power-politics within the Arnulfista party was the cause of the splits that currently exist. Endara ran off to the Solidaridad party when Mireya Moscoso shoved Aleman down everyone's throat as her personally chosen candidate for president. She was able to win in 1999 with 44.9% of the vote (559,550) compared to Martin Torrijos with 37.6% (469,418), even though Alberto Vallarino stripped away 17.5% (217,944) as a Christian Democrat candidate. In reality, Vallarino was pissed because Moscoso squeezed him out of the Arnulfista spotlight, and he was forced to run as an outsider. The same thing happened to Endara, and he got twice as many votes as the official Arnulfista candidate Aleman.
In short, the Panameņistas have gotten the message. Marco Ameglio forced through changes to return the party to a more democratic state with regards to their internal politics and policies. They know that they have to make these changes to regain the confidence of their traditional followers.
In talking about members of a potential political alliance for the 2009 election, Ameglio also suggested the possibility of a multi-party primary process, in which the various political parties can band together very early, and their combined memberships can elect who they would like to have run for President and the Vice President positions in the next election. "That's something that doesn't exist in this country, and it would be a good thing for Panama" said Ameglio. The traditional Panameņistas have come back home to the party, like Alberto Vallarino who ran a good race in 1999. If the Panameņistas can find a way to bring together Molirena, the Patriotic Union, and Ricardo Martinelli's Democratic Change (CD) party, they would be practically unbeatable.
Remember, the Solidarity and Liberal parties supported Martin Torrijos' failed bid in 1999, and now that they have formed into the Patriotic Union behind Endara, another disenfranchised Arnulfista, they will be more likely to lean toward the Panameņistas.
Another scenario could be Martinelli's Cambio Democratico party joining up with the Patriotic Union, which would give them "swing vote" power to go either way. If that happened, power would be basically split three ways between the PRD, a Panameņista alliance, and the Patriotic Union/CD alliance.
I also asked Ameglio about the "polarization" of politics in Latin America, considering what's been happening in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and other countries where populist leftists and outright socialists have won elections. Since traditionally the Panameņista party has been on the "right" and the PRD on the "left" how did he feel about the current trend and how would it effect his strategic thinking. He said that the "old" Panameņista party from the 1950's was "very-right" wing, and that today the party is much more centrist. He pointed to powerful and wealthy businessmen who are currently backing the PRD as a way to say that the left/right splits happening in much of Latin America have not filtered down to Panamanian politics yet. Also, he said he would like to bring in union and labor leaders to participate in the Panameņista party process who have been alienated by Torrijos and the PRD with regards to the Social Security reforms, tax reforms, fuel prices, and the expansion of the canal.
So, there are groups and organizations that are to the left of the PRD that are unhappy with Martin Torrijos, and maybe the Panameņista's can lure them over? Maybe.
Anyway, it's probably too early to be discussing this stuff now. I like to watch Panamanian politics, and keeping track of what's going on is a hobby. As a citizen from the United States I don't get a vote in any of these elections, and I'm just reporting on this stuff so you can follow along with the local media as it comes up on the news.