As of May 5, only one year will separate Panama from its General Elections. New rules are part of the electoral contest and Panama Today spoke with the director of the Center for Democratic Studies of the Electoral Court (TE), Carlos Horacio Díaz, to know the impact of changes in the norm, both in the candidates and in the citizens.
Accountability, transparency and fairness were part of the principles that drove these changes, according to Díaz. For example, "The percentages required of political parties to be constituted are reduced. It was reduced from 4 to 2% of the presidential votes of the last election to become a political party. Spaces were created for social organizations that are consulted permanently by the Electoral Court to make decisions. Electoral facilities are also promoted for independent candidates: the deadlines to complete percentages of adherents (the signatures necessary to achieve candidacy) have been extended, the number of signatures has been reduced, and public funding has increased for those independents that are recognized as candidates".
Contrary to the opinion of some independent candidates, the representative of the TE stated that there is an "open door policy to collaborate with all those candidates for public office by free nomination." He informed that not only are they trained, but they also have all the freedoms to search for the signatures required to be part of the 2019 elections. He highlighted that the independents do not have the presence of TE officials when collecting the rubrics unlike it happens with political parties. "The Electoral Court has to ensure the authenticity of those signatures and this takes time."
One of the most relevant aspects of the reforms has been the issue of the electoral silence and propaganda. According to the Director of the Center for Democratic Studies of the TE, it has been an arduous task to disseminate the topic to representatives of civil society as well as to the political actors.
"Definitely, there is a big challenge, areas such as social networks, web pages. Technology today is a fundamental part of the electoral process and represents a great challenge for the institution so that these rules of the electoral silence can be fulfilled," said Díaz.
Another important challenge for this norm is the participation of public officials in the contest. "It's a big challenge. It is not easy to put someone who is in public office and who has aspirations for re-election in the same position as a person who is outside and who wants to occupy that public position. Achieving equity is not easy, but the electoral reforms have established some mechanisms, for example, the highest ranking public officials, and it is provided for in Article 30 of the Electoral Code. They must resign six months before, that is to say no later than November 5 to submit their candidacy. Also, if he has to go to an internal election within his party to go to a general election and that internal election is held before November 5, he would have to resign previously to that office under penalty of being submitted to a process of disqualification of candidacy. Another case, for example, is that three months prior to the election state propaganda media cannot be disseminated by the media promoting the works they did," said Díaz.
He highlighted that from the Electoral Court there is also another novel mechanism that will be the informed vote. People will have access to know the information about the curriculum vitae and proposals of the candidates for the 2019 General Elections.
As part of the electoral timetable, April 24 is the registration deadline for registering people as foreign residents, that is, for Panamanians who will vote abroad in 2019. April 30 is also the deadline for those who wish to make a change of residence within the Canal territory.