In this week’s El Visitante ( the weekly bilingual periodical in Panamá) they reported that according to national polling, seven days out from the national elections, the three primary candidates for president are separated by a mere 6% points. In Panama this near dead-heat is considered historic. No one seems certain of the outcome. No election in recent memory has been this close.
So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to conduct my own poll. Now, to be clear, I am not (yet) a Panamanian citizen and I can’t vote or even, really, participate in any political activities. But, once an activist, always… or something. Seems I can’t help myself. I want to know why people are supporting one guy or the other—there being no females in the current top positions—unless you count the wife of the current president, Ricardo Martinelli, who is running as vice-president on his Cambio Democratico party ticket, despite constitutional challenges, but then, she did resign her ‘position’ as First Lady and isn’t a blood relative…oy vey…
First thing this morning, I asked my taxi driver who he was going to vote for and why. Varela, candidate of the Panamanista Party (though he was elected five years ago as Martinelli’s vice-president, until they had a falling out and he switched parties, mid-term…whilst continuing to be vice-president. Ojala.). Why is my driver going to support him? “Because he is less of liar than the others.” Really? (Perhaps I misunderstood, my Spanish being somewhat less than perfect). But no, that is what he said. Varela is a liar, but less so than the other guys. Ok, then. Moving right along. Try to keep up.
Second in my polling, my physical therapist. He was less definite. He told me how all his life, since age 7, he had been a devoted follower of the PRD (Popular Revolution Democratico). He had an early age encounter with Omar Torilljos at his grammar school and it made a positive and indelible mark on his young mind. A die hard PRD supporter was born. But then, a few years ago, a Chiricano (resident of the province of Chiriqui) told him about The Black Hand. According to this friend, under Omar Torilljos, the Black Hand made swift work of any and all who opposed the populist military dictator, including tossing reluctant folks out of helicopters from high altitudes. It changed my therapist’s mind about the PRD—which is the party that supported Noriega, after all. So, come election day, he may, or may not, vote for Navarro, the current PRD candidate who espouses all the correct populist ideals, but is still tarred with the brush of the Black Hand. He kinda likes Varela, the vice-president splitter, but doesn’t trust him because he was once hand-in-glove with Cambio Democratico Martinelli. How does one keep track?
Third, in my utterly random quest for information, was the manager/bartender at one of my favorite restaurants where I took myself for some post physical therapy food therapy. The answer there was unequivocal and emphatic. “José Domingo Arias! Of course! Look at all the good things that have come to Panamá under Martinelli! Panamá progresses!” And he ticked them off: roads, super highways, hospitals, canal expansion, metro, agricultural distribution centers, minimum wage pay raises. Not all of these project plans originated under Martinelli, but he has, in fact, made them happen. He could have pocketed ALL the money as his predecessors have, but, no, he actually did some things. You can drive on the roads, ride the metro in the city. The clinics are soon to be open for business. The farm/agricultural centers are expediting the distribution of food throughout the country. And while the price of basics has gone up—a great source of discontent for the poor—so have wages. “You know,” he challenged me. “You’ve lived here for more than ten years. Under Mireya? Under Martín Torilljos? Nada. Nada. Never mind that Martinelli, who has anointed José Domingo and given him his wife as vp, is a global joke. No importe.”
So, my poll, actually, pretty much mirrors the nationals. A three way split, with a few percentage points making a big difference—if you can trust the polls, which most say can be bought.
My point in all this? I live in Panamá. It’s now my home. And I care what happens here. I have strong opinions about things. Health care. Education. Water quality. Indigenous rights. Domestic and sexual violence. I cared about these things in the US, before I left, too. I’m happy with that choice for many reasons. While I still retain, at least for the moment, US citizenship, I no longer vote there. And, I can’t vote, here, yet. But in two years? Oh yeah. Sign me up. But which party? No sé.
Then, there’s this, which I probably shouldn’t mention, but can’t help myself. A few weeks ago ALL of these three candidates signed an agreement saying that they fully and exclusively support marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. Great. Sound familiar? But here’s the kicker, as explained to me by a couple of well-connected Panamanians: ONE of the three is known to be actively bisexual, though married with children. The other TWO each have mistresses and/or illegitimate children…and their wives have, hmmm, consorts? The two really far left wing candidates, who no one takes seriously, each refused to sign. Called it by its name: hypocrisy and cheap vote buying.
Disclaimer: I have only reported what others have told me. They may well have reason to believe what they have said. As for me, I couldn’t possibly, personally, comment. (Thank you, House of Cards (British version).