Viewing cable 04PANAMA886

04PANAMA8862004-04-16 14:51:00 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 
SUMMARY: General Elections 
¶1.  (U) Panama will hold general elections on Sunday, May 2 
to elect a total of 1,756 new officials for five-year 
terms.  Voters will elect a President, two Vice Presidents, 
78 legislators (and 156 alternates), 75 mayors (and 150 
alternates), 619 local representatives, 7 councilmen, 20 
representatives to the Central American Parliament 
(PARLACEN) (and 20 alternates).  Voting will start promptly 
at 7:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m.  Electoral officials have 
announced that preliminary national voting results should 
be available around 7:00 p.m. on May 2 (8:00 p.m. 
Washington time).  Up to 1,999,553 registered voters will 
vote at Panama's 2,193 voting centers throughout the 
country.  Up to 1,900 national and international observers, 
including 25-30 from the OAS, will be watching the polls on 
May 2. 
¶2.  (U) Panama has no mandatory voting law, no electronic 
voting, and no absentee voting.  Panama holds General 
Elections every five years on the first Sunday in May.  The 
President-elect is inaugurated and the Legislative Assembly 
holds its first session on September 1, 2004.  End Summary. 
Voters and Registration 
¶3.  (U) Panamanian law stipulates that all adult (at least 
18 years-old) citizens of Panama may register to vote, 
provided they are within Panamanian territory and not 
detained, in jail awaiting trial or convicted.  Panama's 
electoral code does not allow absentee voting for 
Panamanians residing overseas.  Although voting is not 
mandatory in Panama, voter turnouts have been high in 
Panama's previous two general elections.  In 1994, 73.7% of 
registered Panamanians voted; in 1999, 76.2% voted.  Over 
55% of Panama's registered voters are between the ages of 
18 and 40. 
¶4.  (U) The Electoral Tribunal (ET) publishes the official 
and final electoral registry ("padron electoral") after 
purging duplicate records through careful review and 
computer proofreading.  Registry entries include every 
voter's: (i) complete name, (ii) personal identification 
number (cedula), (iii) voting center (based on residence), 
and (iv) digital photo.  The final electoral registry for 
Panama's May 2004 elections contains 1,999,553 registered 
voters.  The ET has provided every political party a copy 
of the final list to maintain the transparency of the 
registration process. 
Administrative divisions 
¶5.  (U) Panama is divided in nine provinces and seven 
indigenous reservations, which in turn are divided in 43 
electoral districts.  Each district elects a mayor, and, 
depending on population, between one and seven legislators. 
There are 78 total seats at stake in Panama's May 2, 2004 
elections for its unicameral Legislative Assembly. 
Municipal Councils in each district include the mayor and 
local elected representatives. 
¶6.  (U) Residents of each "corregimiento" (group of 
neighborhoods) elect their local representative, known as 
the "representante de corregimiento."  Representing the 
smallest administrative division, there are a total of 619 
corregimientos in Panama, each with a separate 
representative.  Representantes de corregimiento are 
vestiges of Panama's political system under dictator Omar 
Torrijos.  Torrijos abolished the Legislative Assembly, 
forming an Assembly of Local Representatives (ALR) in its 
stead.  Since the ALR no longer exists, Panamanian 
political analysts have called for eliminating the local 
representative position. 
Political parties 
¶7.  (U) Panama has seven legally registered political 
parties:  Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD), Partido 
Popular (PP), Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista 
(MOLIRENA), Partido Arnulfista (PA), Partido Solidaridad 
(PS), Partido Liberal Nacional (PLN) and Cambio Democratico 
(CD).  To obtain Electoral Tribunal recognition, a party 
must register members totaling at least 4% of the number of 
votes cast for President during the most recent election. 
To survive a general election, an existing party must win 
at least 4% of the votes cast in presidential, legislative, 
or local representative balloting.  All political parties 
must have a name, internal by-laws, government platform and 
a distinctive symbol (a flag).  Panama's electoral law 
prohibits religious symbolism in political party flags. 
Official Nominations 
¶8.  (U) Parties choose their candidates during primaries or 
a National Congress, Assembly or Convention, as stipulated 
by their internal by-laws.  If a candidate dies or resigns, 
his/her first alternate automatically occupies the vacant 
candidacy.  The opposition PRD was the only party that held 
primaries to select its candidates.  The other six parties 
elected or nominated their candidates through a national 
congress or convention. 
¶9.  (U) After the Electoral Tribunal closed the official 
voter registry on December 31, 2003, Panama's electoral 
process officially began with political parties officially 
notifying ET of the candidates that they had nominated 
between January 2 and February 2, 2004.  The process will 
end when the ET issues official electoral credentials to 
the winners.  During the electoral process, the ET 
publishes an official electoral calendar by which all 
political parties and independent candidates must abide. 
Panama's electoral law states that only political parties 
can nominate candidates for President or Legislator. 
Independent candidates can run for mayoral and local 
representative seats. 
Electoral calendar 
¶10.  (U) Panama's official electoral calendar consists of 
the following milestones: 
---Oct. 15: Deadline for minors turning 18 years old before 
May 2 to renew their "cedulas" at the Electoral Tribunal. 
---Oct. 30: Publication of tentative electoral registry 
("padron electoral") 
---Nov. 1-Nov 30: Term for political parties to challenge 
additions to the electoral registry 
---Nov. 1: Deadline for appointed GOP officials (cabinet- 
level and above) who will run for elected positions to 
leave their current jobs. 
---Dec 2: ET Officially convokes 2004 elections and swears- 
in National Vote-Counting Board 
---Dec 2-Feb 2: Independent candidates register. 
---Dec 2-Feb 7: Period to challenge independent 
---Dec 31: Deadline for Electoral Tribunal to reconcile 
electoral registry (e.g. removal of new prison inmates, 
latest death reports, etc.) 
---January 2: Official initiation of electoral process 
---Jan 2-Feb 2: Formal written nominations of candidates 
---Feb 1: Deadline for political parties to formally inform 
the ET that they intend to participate in the electoral 
---Feb 2: ET Publishes final electoral registry ("padron 
electoral") and delivers it to political parties 
---April 22: Last day to publish public opinion polls. 
---April 26: ET officially takes control of Panamanian 
National Police (PNP).  Control reverts to Ministry of 
Government & Justice once the ET officially proclaims the 
new President in a ceremony a few days after election day 
---April 30: Last day for any kind of political campaigning 
and/or advertising.  Last day for political talk shows to 
air on state-owned TV. 
---May 1-3: All bars, clubs, cantinas, and liquor stores 
are closed.  Sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited. 
---May 2: Election Day 
   -6:00 a.m. Voting centers set up 
   -7:00 a.m. Voting centers opened 
   -4:00 p.m. Voting ends and counting begins 
   -7:00 p.m. Exit poll results may be broadcast 
¶11.  (U) Close to 1,900 national and international 
observers will be visiting voting centers and counting 
boards on May 2.  The largest group will be Panama's 
Catholic Church NGO Comision de Justicia y Paz, which will 
have 1,500 observers throughout the country.  Panama's 
Ombudsman Office is coordinating the participation of close 
to 300 local observers and will host approximately 15 Latin 
American Ombudsmen who will also observe the elections. The 
Organization of American States (OAS), with USG financial 
support, will send a delegation of 25-27 VIPs.  Foreign 
diplomats resident in Panama will also cover polling, but 
their presence will be limited.  Embassy Panama will deploy 
approximately 30 observers to 12 different locations, 6 in 
metro Panama, and 6 outside the capital. 
¶12.  (U) Voting day procedures are well choreographed. 
After identifying themselves with personal ID cards 
(cedulas), Panamanians who vote on May 2 will each receive 
four ballots: one for President, one for legislator, one 
for mayor, and one for local representative.  The ET is 
preparing 5,105 voting tables ("mesas de votacion"), 
located in 2,193 voting centers (usually public schools). 
Up to 500 voters will be registered at each table.  Voting 
starts promptly at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. sharp, 
after which counting at each table immediately begins. 
Accompanied by representatives designated by each political 
party, electoral officials painstakingly review ballots one 
by one, calling out votes for each elected position. 
Vote Counting 
¶13.  (U) Once counting has finished (about 1-1.5 hours 
after voting ends), volunteer electoral officials at each 
"table" enter results on a tally sheet (acta), spelling out 
figures to avoid confusion.  Then, electoral officials and 
party representatives sign the tally sheet.  Tally sheets 
are essential because there are no recounts in Panama. 
Once the tally sheet is completed and signed, electoral 
representatives burn the ballots while party 
representatives observe.  The electoral representatives 
then take the tally sheet directly to the District Counting 
Board for computing after giving a copy to each party 
representative.  District Counting Boards pass their 
results to their respective Provincial Counting Boards, 
which in turn transmit their results to the National 
Counting Board ("Junta Nacional de Escrutinio"), located by 
law in Panama City.  (NOTE: Counting Board Members are 
usually CPAs and other professionals who have volunteered 
their services and received training and credentials from 
the ET. END NOTE.) 
Poll Results 
¶14.  (U) Despite the laborious counting process, voting 
results will be quickly disseminated including the 
Electoral Tribunal website ( 
Electoral officials have announced that preliminary 
national voting results should be available around 7:00 
p.m. on May 2 (8:00 p.m. Washington time).  Rather than 
waiting to announce definitive results, electoral officials 
plan to broadcast results as they become available. 
Security, sobriety, and ad-ban 
¶15.  (U) Panama's Electoral Code dictates that the ET 
controls the National Police on Election Day.  Only on-duty 
policemen are authorized to carry weapons on Election Day. 
All political advertising and campaigning is prohibited 
after noon on April 30.  Alcohol sales and consumption must 
cease between noon on May 1 and noon on May 3.  On Election 
Day, while voters may wear hats or t-shirts with political 
symbols, distributing political propaganda is forbidden 
inside voting centers.