Presidential Elections at Casco Viejo, Panama

In many countries, Presidential elections tend to be crazy. Here, it is the most boring day of the year (well… ever since we got our democracy back in 1989).  The fun part is the days before it.  This year, it fell coincidentally on a long weekend, as May 1st was Friday… but because of the elections, sales and consumption of alcohol was going to be restricted for both Saturday and Sunday. So every street in Casco Viejo had something going on Friday.

It was also the first true winter weekend, a lot of rain poured, so thousands and thousands of bugs, crazy size ants (queens and males finally coming out of the ground to mate and die the next morning) made their annual appearance, announcing the change of the season. Birds went nuts feeding on them, we even saw a big hawk standing at one of the balconies choosing its next meal, Casco Viejo “other neighbors” where feeling the call of nature. It was fascinating, like being in a jungle!

Well, not too far away, political party flags where hung on balconies, people woke up really early on Sunday dressed either with their best dresses or with political TShirts.  I thought this also ressembled nature´s dance, as often birds and other animals change color to attract their mates. Like bees, everone went to the schools to vote. Unlike other countries, everyone in Panama votes.  Election day is always a Sunday, and the political parties usually help with transportation.  Especially in the interior of the country, transportation is arranged. On election sunday, every bus, taxi, canue and mule is hired to get people to vote. This year, they made it possible for Panamanians abroad to vote and also for people in jail.   Last elections 76% of Panamanians with right to vote, voted.  Not sure what the number is for this year, but probably will be more.

The process is so easy and fluent, people tend to be really nice and take their task seriously. I was glad to see so many people from the neighborhood taking their role with total devotion.

Our elections are not done electronically.  Privacy during the elections is considered sacred, and our only weapon in times of need. We won´t even use electronic devices for our Lottery.  That too falls into the sacred category, by the way.  Usually they give you four papers in order to vote for each category, and they are counted manually.  The judges, with witnesses from every party, count at the end and they write down the results in an Acta. Then, in front of everyone, they burn the papers at the school patios. So there is no re count possibilites.  “Back in the days” (meaning in the Noriega times and even before) here was where the action happened. The votes where “stolen” …. literally. In order to protect the votes, the boxes with the papers inside where carried outside the school into people´s homes to protect it, as it was a normal cheating strategy to count “incorrectly” and put whatever number at the Acta.  Even though times have changed, the seriousness in the faces of those who have the responsibility of guarding our votes tell me there must be a memory of those times somewhere ingrained in their brains.

In Panama, you only have a chance to vote until 4 p.m.  Results are known around 6 p.m. but they confirm it no later than 7 p.m. Definately you know who won before 8 p.m.

This year, and for the first time after the invasion, a candidate won for over 50%.  Ricardo Martinelly won with a very big 60% product of his tenacity (he has run in two different campaigns now), his marketing (his slogan “Los Locos somos Más” was a bit unorthodox, but catchy) and the political alliance he was able to put together with the other oposition parties. But I feel most people, after the scandals of corruption and missmanagement of the current government, just aligned themselves against it, and Martinelli was the candidate that had the most chance of winning. Therefore, Balbina Herrera, the candidate for the government party (PRD) lost with a 37%.

So, what should be expected from Martinelli? If anything, Martinelli´s campaign has shown a creative team, capable of thinking outside the box and being able to work with competitors for a goal. If Ricardo Martinelli keeps these qualities during his government, then we should be on a good track. Buy only time will tell.

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