Panama - Politics
Political culture traditionally characterized by personalism (personalismo), the tendency to give one's political loyalties to an individual rather than to a party or ideology. Politics from 1968 coup until his death in 1981 dominated by General Omar Torrijos Herrera, formally head of government from 1968 to 1978 and thereafter de facto head of government while commander of the National Guard.
Torrijos's influence continued after his death, as both military and civilian leaders sought to lay claim to his political and social heritage. There was a proliferation of parties after 1980, when political system opened up again. Most activity was divided into two main coalitions: pro-government and opposition. Pro-government coalition headed by party created by Torrijos: Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democratico—PRD). The nation's principal opposition party was the Authentic Panamenista Party (Partido Panamenista Autentico — PPA) led by veteran politician Arnulfo Arias Madrid.
Political crisis over lack of democratization and scandals associated with the FDP commander, General Manuel Antonio Noriega Morena, began in June 1987 and escalated throughout the year and into 1988. Opposition forces remained fragmented, but popular protests were orchestrated by the National Civic Crusade (Cruzada Civilista Nacional—CCN), a coalition of civic, business, and professional forces.
In May 1989 Panamanians voted overwhelmingly for the anti-Noriega candidates. The Noriega regime promptly annulled the election, and embarked on a new round of repression. On December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush ordered the US military into Panama.
The Electoral Tribunal moved quickly to rebuild the civilian constitutional government, reinstated the results of the May 1989 election on December 27, 1989, and confirmed the victory of President Guillermo Endara and Vice Presidents Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon. During its 5-year term, the often-fractious Endara government struggled to meet the public's high expectations. Its new police force was a major improvement over its predecessor but was not fully able to deter crime.
Ernesto Perez Balladares was sworn in as President on September 1, 1994, after an internationally monitored election campaign. Perez Balladares ran as the candidate for a three-party coalition dominated by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the erstwhile political arm of military dictatorships. Perez Balladares worked skillfully during the campaign to rehabilitate the PRD's image, emphasizing the party's populist Torrijos roots rather than its association with Noriega. He won the election with only 33% of the vote when the major non-PRD forces splintered into competing factions. His administration carried out economic reforms and often worked closely with the U.S. on implementation of the Canal treaties.
In the 02 May 1999 general elections, Arnulfista candidate Mireya Moscoso, the widow of former President Arnulfo Arias Madrid, defeated Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Martin Torrijos, son of the late dictator, and Christian Democratic Party candidate Alberto Vallarino, winning 44.8 percent of the popular vote. The PRD won 35 seats in the National Assembly; the Arnulfistas, 18; Solidarity, 4; the National Liberal Party, 2; MOLIRENA, 3; Democratic Change, 2; MORENA, 1; the Christian Democratic Party, 4; and the Civic Renewal Party, 2.
Domestic and international observers characterized the elections as generally free and fair; however, several local contests were marred by reports of vote buying and in extreme cases, voter intimidation. Legislative District 9-3, in Veraguas province, was criticized widely for such electoral interference. During her administration, Moscoso attempted to strengthen social programs, especially for child and youth development, protection, and general welfare. Moscoso's administration successfully handled the Panama Canal transfer and was effective in the administration of the Canal.
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