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Panama's Election: Positive But Questions Still Remain

Our election assessment delegation found that Panama’s May 4, 2014 general elections met broadly accepted international standards and appears to have accurately reflected the will of Panamanian voters.  The elections represent another step in consolidating the country’s record of periodic, open and transparent elections since the restoration of democracy in 1989.

We found that the campaign period was generally competitive, with four political parties participating with candidates and three independent candidates running for president for the first time.  Also, Panamanian civil society organizations played a greater role in scrutinizing the electoral process over a longer period than in the past.

On Election Day, the delegation was particularly impressed with the dedication of Panamanian voters who turned out in historically large numbers (75 percent of the electorate) and stood patiently in line to exercise their civic right to participate in the political process.  At voting centers observed by IRI’s assessment delegation, the process appeared organized, calm and somewhat festive.

Despite the positive elections, there are legacy issues surrounding the campaign and electoral system that need to be addressed, such as the use of public resources for partisan purposes, campaign rules that are routinely broken or candidacy qualifications that require interpretation, and the repeated complaints of vote buying.  Additionally, most voting centers lack easy access for the disabled.

Panamanians need a system based on rules and institutions that citizens can trust.  The incoming administration and congress should promote a series of electoral reforms, such as a campaign finance law to disclose the origin of contributions and prevent the use of public funding to produce partisan propaganda.  A clarification is needed on rules governing the participation of a sitting president and other public officials in political campaigns and clarification concerning family members as candidates for succeeding office.  In addition, laws against vote buying should be strengthened and more effectively enforced and greater effort needs to be made to make voting centers handicap accessible.

Since 1983, IRI has monitored 155 elections in more than 47 countries.

Posted by

Morgan Martinez

Deputy Director, External Affairs