Viewing cable 04PANAMA564

04PANAMA5642004-03-08 22:32:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Panama
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958:N/A 
REF: A. Panama 0465 
     ¶B. Panama O417 
Summary/Comment: Moving Along 
¶1. (SBU) New polls from two different not necessarily 
reliable sources are ranking presidential candidates in the 
usual order.  In the Assembly, legislators seeking to 
rejuvenate their rotten image have proposed forward-leaning 
reductions in their own privileges, but may lack the 
political will to push them through.  Charges by some of 
racist profiling in campaign propaganda, complaints by 
candidates that their billboards have been vandalized, and 
allegations that the Presidency has used public funds to 
support favorite candidates, have left Panama's Electoral 
Prosecutor with his hands full.  This campaign continues to 
be characterized by mudslinging and ad hominem attacks 
rather than by considered debate of key issues.  In part 
this reflects a real lack of ideological differences among 
the four Presidential candidates. End Summary/Comment. 
Poll margins vary, not rankings 
¶2. (U) The rankings of the four presidential candidates in 
public opinion polls has not changed since mid-2003.  PRD 
Candidate Torrijos continues to lead, followed by 
Solidarity Candidate Endara, with Arnulfista Aleman and 
Cambio Democratico Martinelli trailing well behind the 
other two.  This week, tabloids El Siglo and La Critica, 
the latter Panama's best-selling daily, released the 
following poll results: 
   CANDIATE                 Siglo  Critica 
MARTIN TORRIJOS              39%     48% 
(Revolutionary Democratic) 
GUILLERMO ENDARA             23%     30% 
JOSE MIGUEL ALEMAN           16%      6% 
RICARDO MARTINELLI           11%      6% 
(Democratic Change) 
¶3. (SBU) Educated Panamanians consider Panama's tabloids to 
be untrustworthy, and likewise consider their polls to be 
biased.  Such perceptions spring from several telling 
facts.  PSM/Sigma 2, which collects and analyzes poll data 
for La Critica, also does private polling for the PRD. 
Jaime A. Porcell, whose company collected data for El 
Siglo, is a longtime PRD sympathizer.  Finally, El Siglo 
President Ebrahim Asvat is a fixture in Martin Torrijos' 
campaign team.  (COMMENT: Both polls show Torrijos winning 
handily, although the Siglo poll gauges Aleman's support at 
roughly double the level of any other poll we have seen. 
Emboffs are not persuaded by poll figures, aware that 1999 
public opinion polls identified Martin Torrijos as leading 
Mireya Moscoso until shortly before Election Day.  Embassy 
will report further analysis of the methodology for and 
credibility of Panama's public opinion polls septel.  END 
Solons propose pruning perks 
¶4. (SBU) Civil society pressure (intensified by front-page 
La Prensa investigative reporting) and pre-election 
calculations yielded bipartisan calls during a closed-door 
legislative session on March 2 to reduce legislative 
privileges.  A draft bill to reform legislative internal 
by-laws would allow legislators to import only one vehicle 
duty-free (instead of three) during their five-year term, 
capping exoneration at US$5,000, and require a three-year 
wait before the car could be resold.  Also, legislators' 
two alternates ("suplentes") would no longer be entitled to 
diplomatic passports unless on official mission.  (COMMENT: 
Legislators may now import up to three cars duty-free with 
no maximum dollar limit and transfer them at any time to 
anyone.  The proposed reforms would help mollify criticism 
of Panama's legislators; however, Emboffs are skeptical 
that the reforms will pass, as are many Panamanians. END 
Leave my ads alone 
¶5. (U) Candidates from all political parties have bombarded 
the Electoral Prosecutor's Office with complaints about 
vandalized campaign advertisements.  The previous volume of 
such complaints -mainly from candidates supporting 
Solidarity candidate Guillermo Endara- pales in comparison 
with this week.  Arnulfista and MOLIRENA candidates 
complained to the media and electoral authorities that 
unidentified persons are destroying their billboards.  Some 
billboards have disappeared.  Vandals defaced others using 
black ink to cover the candidates' faces.  One billboard 
was even shot several times with a handgun.  Electoral 
Prosecutor Gerardo Solis announced that his office will 
investigate anyone accused of such crime and punish the 
No rest for Electoral Prosecutor 
¶6. (SBU) Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo Solis is getting 
almost as much press coverage as the four Presidential 
candidates.  Since the campaign began, Solis has: 
---called hearings to review complaints about cooked 
registration books in the Authentic Liberal Party (PLA), 
eventually eliminating PLA from the 2004 race, 
---mediated a dispute between the Endara campaign and the 
Arnulfistas over the use of the image of deceased President 
and party namesake Arnulfo Arias, 
---investigated vandalism of political advertisements, 
---searched the Ministry of Labor to assess whether a 
legislative candidate was demoted for running with a non- 
GOP coalition party, and 
---announced that he will investigate whether official 
funds from the Ministry of the Presidency have been used 
illegally to fund campaigns for Arnulfista candidate Jose 
Miguel Aleman and/or turncoat legislator Carlos Afu. 
The President's Legal Slush Fund 
¶7. (SBU) While Aleman denied GOP funds have entered his 
campaign, claiming that he has enough other money, Afu made 
no public comments.  Minister of the Presidency Mirna Pitti 
claimed she had nothing to hide.  Legally, Pitti has 30 
calendar days to disclose use of the funds from President 
Moscoso's "secret allotment." (NOTE: This allotment, known 
in Spanish as the "partida discrecional" or "partida 
discreta" existed during the Endara Administration (1989- 
94) at a level of US$2 million per year.  President Ernesto 
Perez Balladares (1994-99) raised the stakes to US$6 
million, where they have since remained.  Unlike other 
government spending, use of these funds is neither pre- 
authorized nor audited post-expenditure.  Thus many civil 
society leaders have called for public release of expense 
records. End note) 
Racial profiling in PRD Ad 
¶8. (SBU) A TV advertisement for PRD-PP candidate Martin 
Torrijos offended several members of the Afro-Panamanian 
community.  The ad, relating concerns about citizen 
security, portrayed a black man shadowing two elderly 
Latino women.  Afro-Panamanian activist Alberto Barrow 
asserted that the ad gave the impression blacks are crime 
perpetrators and Latinos victims.  Barrow had a heated 
discussion March 3 on a live TV talk show with another 
black PRD leader Luis Gomez, who defended the ad.  The PRD 
convened a meeting between Barrow and ad producer Cesar 
Sanjur and then decided to modify the ad.  The new ad has 
already aired, minus the suspicious-looking black man.