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Wednesday, September 18 2019 @ 01:33 pm EDT

National Assembly Will Probably Pass Electoral Reforms Today

Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for - Right now the Deputies of the National Assembly of Panama are participating in the third and final debate of the controversial Bill 508, which reforms the Electoral Code. This debate has been going on for more than a week now, with the Deputies from the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Panameñistas vehemently rejecting the proposal, which is being pushed through by the ruling Cambio Democratico (CD) party.

The simple fact of the matter is there are 71 Deputies in the National Assembly, and the CD has more than 40 votes, so they can do pretty much anything they want, over the objections of the opposition party members.

The PRD and the Panameñistas have done everything they can think of to halt the debates. Last week they had groups of paid demonstrators show up to invade the public viewing stand area of the National Assembly, with the intention of throwing irritants and rocks - so in response the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez closed the viewing stands and prohibited public access for safety reasons. Now only Deputies, employees of the National Assembly, and journalists have access.

Then large groups of paid protesters would show up outside of the National Assembly to protest, make noise, and try to force their way in. In response the President of the National Assembly asked the Director of the National Police to deploy riot control officers, to secure the perimeter of the National Assembly, and to keep the protesters from forcing their way in to the grounds.

The opposition Deputies then tried a variety of delaying tactics, such as introducing literally hundreds of proposals - and in response the CD invoked Articles of the internal procedures of the National Assembly to shut that down, and to force the debates to move forward.

Yesterday Bill 508 was passed in the second (of three) debates. In the Panamanian legislative system, the first debate is held at the committee level. Once a Bill is approved in Committee it goes to the full membership for two more debates and votes. As of this morning, Bill 508 has already been approved in the first and second debates, and it is expected that today it will be passed in the third and final debate. Once approved, it will go to President Ricardo Martinelli for his signature. Once it is signed, it will become the law of the land once it is published in the "Official Gazette" - the state owned newspaper which exists for this kind of thing.

Right now there are about 20 opposition lawmakers who have signed up to speak against Bill 508 in the third debate. Each will be given exactly ten minutes to speak, so there's 200 minutes (just over three hours). The debates started at about 8:30 am this morning. It is not expected that many of the CD Deputies will ask to speak during this debate, and if any of them do it will be brief. They just want the PRD and the Panameñistas to have their last say (as required by law) and then get to the vote. The final vote should occur in the early afternoon, sometime between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm or so.

Bill 508 eliminates a vote counting method called the "voto en plancha" - which means one person can vote for a party instead of an individual. So simply by checking one box, that one person effectively generates seven votes. I know, it's goofy. That's a malformation of the democratic process installed by the PRD when they were in charge of the government from 2004 - 2009. It unfairly tilts the table in favor of their party in those Districts where there are more than one Deputy, mostly in Panama City. With these reforms, now each voter will have to select and vote for each candidate, one vote per person. The PRD argues the CD is doing this in order to help those Deputies who have jumped ship from the PRD to the CD during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. The elimination of the "voto en plancha" will improve the chances of those guys keeping their seats in the National Assembly.

And there are other elements of this law about which I have reported earlier. What matters most is - the CD is pushing this through and the opposition hates it. The bottom line is that the CD has control of the National Assembly and they can put through these reforms which will help their chances in 2014. And it looks like finally, today all of this will be coming to an end.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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