Balbina Herrera Wins PRD Primary - Now What?
Monday, September 08 2008 @ 11:29 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Well, I was wrong. I had predicted that Juan Carlos Navarro would win the PRD primary yesterday and he lost by 9%. And, it should be noted that the "also ran" third candidate Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo siphoned off exactly 9% of the vote - and I suspect that if he had not been running then most of the votes that went to him would have gone to Juan Carlos Navarro. Also, this is the first election loss for Juan Carlos Navarro who had been undefeated in his political career, until now. And, with the PRD primaries behind us, the next obvious question is "now what?" (more)
PRD Healing and Love Fest: The two candidates, Balbina Herrera and Juan Carlos Navarro, represented the left and right wings of the PRD, respectively. One thing the PRD has always been able to count on is party solidarity once primary elections and internal conflicts like this are over. Today Juan Carlos Navarro made it clear that he intends to do everything in his power to get Balbina Herrera elected in the general national election on 3 May 2009.
Balbina's Concerning Past: Martin Torrijos obviously was more associated with his father, Omar Torrijos, who was widely perceived as a benevolent dictator. Balbina Herrera, although she said she as a "Torrejista de Verdad" (true follower of Torrijos), actually owes much of her political success to Manuel Antonio Noriega. And while most Panamanians look back at Torrijos with a kind of nostalgia, those same people look back an Noriega with contempt and disgust. In a post-election interview with Balbina Herrera in her home this morning she spoke openly about her past and connections to Noriega - things she strongly downplayed during the primary campaign.
Balbina Is Easier To Beat: Several opposition political operatives have indicated to me privately that they were hoping Balbina Herrera would win - for exactly that reason. While Juan Carlos Navarro is US educated, right wing, evangelical, pro business, and a white male - Balbina Herrera is seen as representing all of the old negative baggage of the PRD. She is obviously popular among the PRD faithful, but can she pull off a national election? That remains to be seen.
The "Taking Turns" Effect: There have been only four "post-dictatorship" democratically elected Panamanian Presidents. And, the two main parties have been switching back and forth in power since 1989. Guillermo Endara won the election in April 1988 and was installed in 1989 after the US invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Antonio Noriega. Endara was replaced by the PRD's Ernesto "El Toro" Balladares in 1994, who won with only 35% of the popular vote - the rest was fragmented among several opposition candidates. Balladares was replaced by Arnulfista Mireya Moscoso in 1999. And, thanks to the horrendous perception of corruption created during her administration, Martin Torrijos and the PRD swept back into power in 2004. So, it's been "back and forth" between the PRD and the Arnulfistas (now called the Panameñistas) with the two parties taking turns for the past 20 years. If the trend continues, then Balbina Herrera should be defeated by the Panameñistas and Juan Carlos Varela in May 2009.
Ricardo Martinelli, By The Numbers: The PRD has about 640,000 members. Of those, about half came out to vote yesterday. Of those, about half voted for Balbina Herrera. So, in a primary election with poor turnout, in which she captured just over half of the vote (or only one-quarter of the party members) Balbina Herrera still managed to get more votes than all of the members of Ricardo Martinelli's Cambio Democratico (CD) party, combined. The CD has about 130,000 members, roughly about the same number as those who voted for Balbina Herrera yesterday. In May 2004, Martin Torrijos received 711,447 votes. By comparison Ricardo Martinelli received 79,595. In the past four years Martinelli has taken advantage of the relative weakness and post-Moscoso collapse of the Panameñistas to grow his party and expand to about 130,000 members. The PRD has about 640,000 card-carrying party members. There are about 320,000 Panameñistas out there. Even on his best day there's no way in hell Martinelli can honestly hope to finish anywhere above third place. My one question for him - what's he thinking?
The Balbina Crack in the PRD Armor: There is a chance, a possibility, that shadows of Noreiga's past will scare enough people into voting against Balbina Herrera. Yesterday, for example, supporters such as Graciela Dixon popped back up to the surface, hard-core old school PRD warriors from the extreme left wing of the party. These are the guys who really (really) scare a whole lot of Panamanians and make people worried. OK, so Martin Torrijos has proven that he can kick Panama's economy into overdrive. But he's a timid little schoolkid compared to some of the really hard-core old school Noriega followers. Balbina makes people nervous, "de corazon."
Unite Or Die: It now falls to the opposition to either unite for the next election or remain fragmented and basically hand the election to Balbina Herrera. If Martinelli siphons off his 130,000 votes or so, and if Varela can manage his 320,000, then Balbina Herrera is almost guaranteed about 500,000 plus, and Guillermo Endara takes whatever is left. Balbina wins, it's a no-brainer. But, if you gel all of the three opposition guys together into one, and add the 320,000 from the Panameñistas to the 130,000 from the CD, bring Guillermo Endara on board with all of the old school "Civilistas", and then pick up anyone who is waivering because they are afraid of Balbina and the old-school PRD, then you at least have a tight election. Any variation to this scenario is a guaranteed win for Balbina and a guaranteed loss for (whoever) in the opposition. So, it really comes down to unite or die.
Copyright 2008 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.