Monday, May 05, 2014

Panama's Election

Juan Carlos Varela won the Panamanian presidential election with a plurality of 39.14% but his party only received 11 of 71 legislative seats (the entire unicameral National Assembly), which put it at a distant third.

The basics of post-invasion Panamanian presidential politics have held. The incumbent party loses while power is shared within a small oligarchy (we are seeing a switch from big supermarket money to big rum money). Poverty and inequality are serious problems but economic growth is solid (very high recently) and the left has difficulty getting much of a foothold. Illicit money will keep flowing in to be laundered and corruption won't go anywhere in particular even while all the parties point fingers at each other and simultaneously skim what they can. Presidents get greedy and want another consecutive term but are rebuffed.

What all this leaves is divided government in the context of elite consensus that survives despite personal differences. Political disagreement remains at the margins (i.e. not core issues about the country's direction) and this election revolved much more around Ricardo Martinelli's efforts to keep pulling strings from behind the scenes (especially with his wife as running mate of his party's candidate José Domingo Arias).

There is talk about why the polls failed to predict the victory and showed Varela third, but on Twitter Orlando Pérez (who was there observing) argues that no polling was allowed past April 24 (for a May 4 election) and they had been showing him rising.


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