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The candidates, the parties ….. and their promises
Every five years Panama’s citizens elect a new government and on Sunday, May 4 they will go to the ballots to choose the president, legislators, mayors and district representatives. Although there are independent candidates for all the positions, the three main parties: Cambio Democratico (CD), Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) and Partido Panameñista are dominating the electoral campaign.
Cambio Democratico, the ruling party, was founded in 1998 and is the second biggest in the country. It is a center-liberal party that favors free enterprise with support from the government. Its founders, one of which is the current President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, wanted to offer an alternative to the traditional parties, the PRD and the Panameñista. The CD has formed an alliance with Molirena party, the fifth, with more members which has liberal inclinations and was a former ally of the Panameñista.
CD’s presidential candidate is José Domingo Arias, an economist, entrepreneur and politician. He was Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Housing Minister in the Martinelli government. He started as a salesman in the clothing company, Industrias Modernas S.A. and today he is one of its shareholders.
Domingo Arias was totally unknown as a politician, because his time in the government was brief and furthermore he never ran for any public office before, until he became CD’s presidential candidate. At the moment he is at the front of the popularity pole with 39% of the votes.
His partner as the vice-president is no other than the current President of the Republic’s wife, Marta Linares de Martinelli, who is related to the late Arnulfo Arias Madrid, founder of the Panameñista Party. She is a former insurance broker and her appointment as a candidate caused a stir among the opposition parties, who believe that Ricardo Martinelli will use her to continue govern the country through her if Arias wins the election.
His government plan under the slogan “New Ideas, new changes” is proposing the creation of the Women City, a place that will be a hospital and refuge and train women to be self-sufficient. Another promise is the creation of scholarships for universities, the completion of the Metro lines 2 and 3, training for young people who have dropped-out young people between the ages of 16-20 plus $100 a month for six months and 100,000 plots for low income families.
The Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) is the party with the most membership in the country. It was founded on October 3, 1979 as the political arm of the military dictatorship of the General Omar Torrijos Herrera. It is a center-left party formed by the remains of the political organizations that were abolished after the 1968 military coup. After the defeat in the 2009 elections the party was divided in different fractions until finally was united under the leadership of Juan Carlos Navarro Quelquejeu, when he was elected secretary general.
Juan Carlos Navarro is the PRD presidential candidate. He is a seasoned politician who was Panama City´s mayor for eleven years. In 1994 he was selected by Time magazine as one of the most promising younger leaders on the planet for the next millennium. He is a great defender of the environment and founded the ANCON Foundation, one of the most important conservationist organizations of the country. He has a master in Public Administration from Harvard University and is fluent in Spanish, English and French. He is second in the popularity polls.
Gerardo Solís, a former Electoral Tribunal magistrate and an independent presidential candidate was invited to be Navarro’s vice-president. He is a lawyer, writer and university professor. He was Housing Minister in 1998. He has a Master from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas and was the President of the National College of Lawyers. He received the “Manuel Amador Guerrero medal” for his ethical behavior as a public servant in 2001.
The Navarro-Solis duplet has a government plan called “Building a New Panama”, which is similar to the one unveiled by Arias, with certain variations. He promised to giver 10,000 university scholarships, bilingual education, help the agricultural sector with loans and incentives, organize poor neighborhoods, water for everybody, more security, 100,000 houses for low income families, training for school dropouts and a medical card that will allow handicapped who are over 65 years old to received free medical treatment.
The Panameñista Party
Panameñista Party is a nationalistic and has the third largest membership. It was founded by the former President of the Republic, Arnulfo Arias Madrid in the 40s. Its doctrine is “Panama for the Panamanians” is a reflection of the nationalistic ideas of the 1930 Europe among the Panamanian middle class. The military coup in 1968 transformed the party’s doctrine which became antimilitary and anticommunist.
The Panameñista Party candidate is Juan Carlos Varela, who was Ricardo Martinelli’s, vice-president until a disagreement dissolved the CD/Panameñista Alliance in 2012, which provoked the resignation of half of the ministerial cabinet. Varela is an industrial engineer, who is part owner and executive vice-president of Varela Hermanos S.A. the manufacturer of Abuelo Rum and Seco Herrerano. He has been in politics for more than 20 years. He is third in the polls
Cambio Democrático an The Panamenista Party were and allies but split in 2012
Varela chose a woman as vice-presidential candidate. She is Isabel Saint Malo, a former United Nations executive, she has many years experience developing and implementing public policies in Latin America in the government and private sectors. She is not a political figure and this is her first incursion in the area. She has a B.A. in International Relations and a MBA.
The Varela-Saint Malo government plan called Panama First is based on five premises: reduce the cost of the basic food basket by reducing the essential food prices, 100% drinking water and zero latrines, safe neighborhoods, bilingual education and a public health system which is accessible and efficient for everybody.
Who will win the presidency? The panorama is not clear yet, but as the elections day approaches, excitement mounts.