The first presidential debate ahead of the general elections on May 5 in Panama left on Wednesday the reiteration of promises of free things and subsidies to improve education, health and the agricultural sector, as well as a constitutional reform that cannot be postponed.
In this "ideological dispute for the projection of proposals and ideas", as it was defined this initiative by the Electoral Tribunal, the presidential candidates of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), Laurentino "Nito" Cortizo; of the Cambio Democrático (CD), Rómulo Roux; and the Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD), Saúl Méndez.
Also the presidential candidate of the ruling Partido Panameñista, José Blandón; and the independent candidates Ana Matilde Gómez, Ricardo Lombana and Marco Ameglio.
The debate was limited to four themes: the transformation of education; food security and sovereignty; health and human development; and a new constitutional order.
The principle of the non-privatization of health and education was a generalized offer of the candidates for the first magistracy, as well as the control and even the elimination of food imports during the harvest season.
Those who remembered the excesses of corruption were the independent candidates and the FAD, who constantly cited that the great problems facing the country have been the product of the decisions and bad policies of the traditional parties.
In general the debate developed in a moderate tone, without grandiloquence on the part of the candidates, only with a certain heat in the point of the situation of the field and the consequences of the free trade agreements (FTA) and imports.
There abounded the mutual accusations of the responsibilities of the bad application of the FTA, something that the independents took advantage of to reproach that these agreements were signed by the traditional parties.
The PRD candidate was the center of most of the few direct attacks between the candidates, who starred along with Blandón and Roux.
On the subject of education, the candidates agreed on the need to raise the budget of the sector to 6% of the gross domestic product, which should improve the preparation of teachers and help students at all levels with scholarships or subsidies conditioned, that is, that its performance must be measured.
From the control of imports until they were eliminated, granting soft loans, technification and expansion of the planting area, were a coincidence among the candidates in the matter of food security.
In terms of health, the high cost of medicines and their scarcity in the public system was a common critical of the candidates, who spoke of modifying the mechanisms of purchase and of promoting the use and sale of generics in popular pharmacies.
The independent Ameglio spoke of a "reform, not privatization" of the Social Security Fund (SSF), an institution that faces an uncertain future due to the lack of funds according to various studies.
Regarding the constitutional reforms, the candidates agreed that it is an urgent need, especially as regards the election of Supreme Court magistrates and the functioning of Parliament, without agreeing on the method to do so.
Roux and Cortizo said that such reforms should be carried out by the Parliament, while Blandón, the independents Lombana and Gómez, and Méndez said that they should be undertaken with a constituent.
The second presidential debate organized by the Electoral Tribunal will be on April 10 at the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP), based on issues still to be defined.
More than 2.7 million voters are summoned to the polls on May 5 to elect president and vice president, deputies to the National Assembly and the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), mayors, corregimiento representatives and councilors.
The proselytizing campaign in the face of the elections will officially begin on March 4, when it is expected that polls on intention to vote will proliferate.