Monday, January 26, 2009

The Panama Presidential Election

Current President Martin Torrijos

Ricardo Martinelli

Balbina Herrera

When visiting Panama you cannot escape the upcoming presidential election. The current President, Martin Torrijos (the son of General Omar Torrijos – the Panamanian dictator in the 1960’s to 1980’s), is not running for re-election. The primary was held last September and the leading candidates are now really slugging it out. There are political signs everywhere. In Panama City there are banner style signs along all the streets and in the rural areas there are huge billboards everywhere. I can’t imagine what will be on all those billboards after the May 3 primary.

At the time of the primary, Balbina Herrera was elected the candidate of the PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party) which is the current ruling party. She defeated Juan Carlos Navarro, the Mayor of Panama City. She was the Minister of Housing and was expected to be a shoe in for President. But, that is what elections are for. Polls that were released in the last couple of weeks show the candidate of the major opposition party, Ricardo Martinelli has a huge lead of over 20%. Martinelli is a wealthy businessman who owns a large supermarket chain (Super99) in Panama. He is the candidate of the Democratic Change Party (CD).

There are other lesser parties and candidates. The presidential winner, and his or her party assembly candidates, generally do not win a majority, so a government is formed with alliances with minor parties in order to form an operating majority in the unicameral National Assembly.

On Sunday we hear fire crackers and look down on Via Espana and see a parade is forming. This looks like fun so we head down to the street. There are hundreds of cars parked on three of the four lanes all sporting big political flags, wearing logo political hats and t-shirts, signs all over their cars and trucks, and having a grand time. In proper Panama fashion they are blasting music from their cars and honking their horns. It is a parade for Balbina Herrera and the Assembly candidates of her party. After everything was organized they all start tearing down the street, blasting their horns, waving the flags, and the drivers pretending it is a grand prix race. Now this is one political tactic yet to arrive in the U.S.!

The one thing I discovered when researching the material in this post, is that political blogging goes on everywhere, even in Panama. I found several English language blogs that had some comment about the Presidential election. One good source of a lot of political commentary can be found at

While watching the parade we met another tourist couple and struck up a conversation with Mike & Patty. They are here for a week and staying in a VRBO apartment in another nearby building. We are able to explain what is going on with the election and why all the activity. Mike is a retired navy intelligence officer and they are doing some serious travel. It was fun to exchange experiences and to give some Panama City advice.

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