Panama: General Elections, IFES Election Observation Final Report

Publication Date: 
31 May 1999

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Introduction:

B. Panama's Electoral System

Elections in Panama are governed by the Constitution, the Electoral Code, and decrees issued by the Electoral Tribunal (TE). Even though the military regime reformed parts of the Constitution, most of the provisions applying to elections were unchanged. Thus, when civilian government was restored in 1989, little statutory change was needed to provide for elections under a democratic regime. Nonetheless, since the existing rules had been abused or ignored by the military regime, the government of Guillermo Endara and the newly constituted TE sought to enact some reforms and, more importantly, to build a democratic political culture.

The first element of the election systems is the current Constitution, ratified in 1972 and amended in 1983, during the military regime, it grants suffrage to any citizen having an identity card, which can be obtained at age 18. The Constitution addresses the TE in the section on Political Rights (Title I, Chapter III, Articles 136-139). Article 136 provides for an "autonomous" Tribunal, with legal standing, its own resources, and the right to administer those resources. The TE has the power to: I) interpret and apply the Electoral Law; and 2) to direct and oversee a) records relating to the civil status of individuals, b) issuance of personal identity cards, and c) all phases of the electoral process. Thus, the TE is responsible for the list of registered voters, voter identification cards, and the election process itself. Three magistrates, each nominated by a different branch of the government, head the TE. They serve a ten-year term and are responsible to the Supreme Court for offenses or crimes committed while exercising their powers. The current Magistrates are Eduardo Valdes Escoffery (1996-2006), Denis Allen (1996-2006), and Erasmo Pinilia C. (1996-2006), who replaced Guillermo Marquez Amado (1990-1996). From 1990 to 1996, Magistrates Valdes and Allen were finishing their predecessors' terms. In 1996, Magistrates Valdes and Allen were reconfirmed to serve a second full ten-year term.

In every encounter with the IFES delegation, the Magistrates of the TE were completely open and forthcoming, providing ample documentation and briefing materials, and arranging detailed briefings for the delegation by TE department heads.

The second element in the election system is a set of separate organizations -- the National Counting Board, Circuit-level Counting Boards, District Counting Boards, and Local Counting Boards - that are legally charged with compiling their respective vote counts and officially proclaiming those election results. The following chart illustrates how vote tallies flow from polling places to various counting centers, it displays the organizational relationships among the counting boards.

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