Monday 29th April 2024.

April 28, 2024


The magistrate of the Electoral Court (TE), Luis Guerra , defended the argument of the plenary session of the institution to designate José Raúl Mulino as presidential candidate of the Realizing Goals (RM) and Alianza parties , replacing Ricardo Martinelli, who was disqualified from competing. in the general election, due to his conviction for the New Business case .

“We answered that it was based on article 362 of the Electoral Code . The Electoral Tribunal does not do anything capriciously. It does so based on the law,” he said.

To the question of why they didn’t consult RM and Alianza about who they wanted their candidate to be? Guerra responded: “ We didn’t have to ask anyone anything at all because this is a situation that operated as a matter of law. Article 364 (of the Electoral Code) says that a suitable candidate is disqualified, his substitute is automatically raised, therefore there was no need to do it with him, or with anyone. We have many cases where the principal leaves the ballot and the principal automatically goes up (…)” , he maintained.

What would happen if Mulino wins the elections and the Court declares his candidacy unconstitutional? he was consulted.

The magistrate said: “this is a matter of ordinary justice, we are not going to give an opinion on what would happen in that matter.”

Judge Guerra’s responses come one day after the TE sent a note to Judge Olmedo Arrocha, rapporteur of the unconstitutionality claim against Agreement 11-1 of 2024, in which Ricardo Martinelli was disqualified from competing in the elections of the May 5 and simultaneously Mulino (who until then was a candidate for vice president of the Republic) was appointed in his place.

Arrocha asked the TE whose idea was to designate José Raúl Mulino as presidential candidate, replacing Martinelli or was it a unilateral decision.

“ The decision to enable José Raúl Mulino as a candidate for President of the Republic, representing the Realizing Goals and Alliance parties, was a decision of the Plenary of the Electoral Court, taken by Plenary Agreement 11-1 of March 4, 2024 … ”, the TE responded to the magistrate in a note received at the CSJ at 10:10 am yesterday, Friday, April 26.

The TE magistrates informed Arrocha that there is no document that supports the decision to enable Mulino as a presidential candidate, since the plenary session “was prevented from carrying out any negotiations” with the parties that nominated him, since the Electoral Code , In its article 362 – regulated by article 91 of Decree 29 of 2022 – it had already planned the scenario for when a main candidate lost his status as a candidate, providing for his substitute to assume his place.

That position was defended by judges Eduardo Valdés Escoffery and Luis Guerra Morales . Judge Alfredo Juncá, president of the TE, has another theory. He says, for example, that the figure of the substitute is not applicable to that of the vice president of the Republic, since the latter performs simultaneous and parallel functions with the president of the Republic. Therefore, in this case, he is not comparable to the figure of a substitute who only acts in the absence of the principal.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (Cciap) , Adolfo Fábrega, through the Sunday column “Cámara Opina”, expressed his concern and rejection about the recent bills that seek to create more townships in the province of Bocas del Toro, initiative of the deputy of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Benicio Robinson.

“A plural number of deputies have chosen to promote bills whose purposes seem more focused on short-term political gains than on the genuine benefit of the country,” said Fábrega, emphasizing that said projects have not been properly evaluated or discussed with citizens.

Fábrega accuses the National Assembly of having “lost sight of its role as the legitimate representative of the Panamanian people,” by diverting attention from initiatives such as the forfeiture of ownership and modifications to the Assembly’s internal regulations.

He also states that “the omission to discuss these important issues reinforces the idea that the only agenda that interests those who control the legislature is their own” and rejected the actions of the deputies who “seek to use the National Assembly as a springboard for their own particular and political interests.”

The organization asks all Panamanians to ensure that the Assembly reflects the true interests and aspirations of the people, where the strengthening of democracy is promoted, together with citizens.

The balance of the country’s total debt closed at 49,769 million dollars as of March 31, according to the Public Financing Directorate of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Although the figure decreased by 0.08% (about 32 million dollars) compared to February, if the balance is compared with the figures for the first quarter of last year, an increase of 3,871 million dollars is observed.

In March, 56.1 million dollars were paid to bilateral organizations and commercial banks in capital disbursements, and another 318 million dollars in interest. 69.7 million dollars corresponding to Treasury Bills were also canceled.

On the income side, the entry into the State coffers of 30 million dollars was reported, coming from loans signed with the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), destined for the National Investment Program for Network Infrastructure Vial, to the Wastewater Management Project for Burunga and Arraiján Cabecera, and to the Sanitation of the City and Bay of Panama. 28.6 million dollars were also received from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), assigned to the Operational Management Improvement Program of the Institute of National Aqueducts and Sewers (Idaan) in the Metropolitan Area of ​​Panama, among others.

Between July 1, 2019, when President Laurentino Cortizo’s mandate began, and March 31, 2024, the total balance of Panamanian debt has risen by $21,184 million.

In the 2024 budget, it has been projected to pay 5,657 million dollars in debt, which constitutes 18% of the general budget, which amounts to 30,690 million dollars, reflecting the weight that the debt has on the State’s finances.

Recently, the rating agency Moody’s announced that the next Panamanian government will face fiscal restrictions due to the deterioration of debt affordability indicators in relation to its peers, in a context of high interest rates and increasing spending rigidity. The loss of investment grade for the Fitch agency, which lowered the country’s rating, may translate into an increase in the interest that investors will ask for to acquire Panamanian debt.

A month before Fitch withdrew the investment grade, Panama issued, on February 22, bonds maturing in the years 2031, 2038 and 2057 for a total of 3.1 billion dollars, with interest rates between 7% and 8%. The Ministry of Economy and Finance said that this operation was part of the financing strategy planned by the government to cover this year’s budget.

Starting today, Monday, the country enters the final stretch of its general elections on May 5; the most important without a doubt of the last thirty years for the future of Panama.

These elections are marked by uncertainty not only regarding the results, but also the final list of presidential candidates, since regarding the candidacy of one of them – that of José Raúl Mulino, deputy of former president Ricardo Martinelli, who currently leading voting intention polls – there is an unconstitutionality appeal not yet resolved by the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ).

These elections also take place in an unprecedented and atypical scenario, with high levels of political tension, suspicion and distrust.

To this we must add an economic and social context characterized by the slowdown in economic growth, the loss of investment grade by the Fitch rating agency, high external debt, citizen social unrest, corruption and impunity, and major challenges such as the deficit of the social security fund, the water shortage of the Canal and the recent closure of the mine among others.

Political culture shows equally worrying data: low level of support for democracy (46%), 53% think that they would not mind a non-democratic government if it gives results to their problems; high level of dissatisfaction with democracy (83%), with political parties and a National Assembly very discredited and with very low levels of popular support.

This week will be key: the campaign closes are coming, the projections of the latest voting intention polls and, of central importance, whether or not the CSJ will resolve the unconstitutionality appeal on Mulino’s candidacy before May 5 and If so, what will be your decision.

However, there is no certainty that the CSJ will issue its opinion before May 5.

In my opinion, what is convenient in a scenario of such complexity, political tension and uncertainty as the one Panama is experiencing, is for the CSJ to convene an extraordinary plenary session, meet continuously and adopt a decision (for or against the constitutionality ) no later than Tuesday, April 30.

Without ignoring the risks and political effects that this decision could have just a few days before the election and the criticism and debate that said decision would generate in society, I consider that it would be a lesser evil than the CSJ “deciding not to decide” which would also have very important political effects.

I am aware that there is no ideal scenario but, even so, Panama should avoid going to the presidential elections on May 5 without an express and clear statement from the CSJ. It would be dangerous to extend the legal uncertainty post-election, especially in the scenario that Mulino wins the presidential election.

I repeat, there is no ideal scenario. Both are highly complex and carry highly politically intense risks. But leaving the legal uncertainty closed in one sense or another is, in my opinion, the least serious. Furthermore, the credibility of the Court itself is at stake, a key issue to guarantee legal certainty, a sine quanon requirement in the current situation to recover investments and economic growth.

Another central issue that must be put under scrutiny is how the Assembly will be integrated, which will define the governability conditions that the new president will have.

In short: all scenarios are open, not only the political-electoral ones but also the judicial ones. It will be an election with a high level of emotionality that, together with uncertainty, will be a one-round election, and the high level of undecided people will be defined not only in the last days but also, I dare say, in the last hours . Another key variable will be the level of electoral participation (in the last one it was 73%) and within it, the level of electoral participation of young people.

Personnel from the Superior Prosecutor’s Office Specialized in Drug-Related Crimes, together with the National Border Service, seized 75 rectangular packages with alleged illicit substances in the Bayano area.

The drugs were hidden in bags with yams, in a pick-up type vehicle. In this case, there are two people arrested.


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