Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Panamanians wanted change, but weren't exactly looking for a revolution.

TO BE NOTED: From Bloggings By Boz:

"Five points on Martinelli

Change. Ricardo Martinelli won because voters in Panama felt the current government and the two party system in general were not responding to their main concerns (mostly security and the economy). Martinelli ran a smart campaign, offering a fresh face and capitalizing on voters' disenchantment with the current political elite. He ran as part of the "Alliance for Change," a new group that also took a majority in the legislature.

But not too much change. Panamanians wanted change, but weren't exactly looking for a revolution. Both candidates were in favor of free trade with the US. Martinelli will continue and even expand the canal expansion and other infrastructure investment. Martinelli was a candidate for change, but also provided an image of stability that helped his chances.

Winning ugly. It was an ugly election, fought as much on personal attacks as it was on the issues. That was true in the PRD primary won by Herrera and true in the general election. Herrera tried but failed in portraying Martinelli's personal fortune as a liability and Martinelli successfully made Panamanian voters believe that Herrera was a "leftist" who fell outside the mainstream (Martinelli was helped with that message by Juan Carlos Navarro campaign against Herrera in the primary, even if Navarro ended up being Herrera's VP candidate).

Foreign policy shift? Martinelli attempted to portray himself as ideologically connected with Colombia's Uribe and the Dominican Republic's Fernandez. In an interview with AFP, Martinelli even promoted himself as the first of a wave of change in Latin America moving away from the "left." While many analysts saw this election as helping the US-Panama relationship, it's good to remember that Martinelli is center-right and much closer to the GOP in the US than to the current US president's party. Martinelli also offered promises to remove Panama from the Central American parliament and consider changing diplomatic recognition to China, both moves would be shifts in Central America's foreign policy worth watching.

Challenges ahead. Martinelli campaigned claiming he can improve Panama's security and economy. Now he has to prove it. The biggest challenge may be that part of Panama's economy and security is out of his hands. Even with the canal expansion, the global economic crisis is hitting investment and trade. From the security side, what happens in Colombia, Mexico and Central America will have major effects on how much illicit traffickers work through Panama. Martinelli, like many other presidents in Latin America, is going to find that it was easier to demand change as the opposition candidate than it is to govern once in office.

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